Black English Bookstore: A women-owned Tampa Heights gem

Curated. If there’s one word you had to pick to describe the Black English Bookstore – curated would be it. Nestled in Tampa Heights the beautiful, independent bookstore is owned by Gwendolyn Henderson, Tampa City Councilwoman, along with her daughter, Ariel Amirah.

Opened last December, Black English Bookstore caters to readers of Black-authored books of all ages. A 732-square-foot shop, the sections are mindfully named: “I’m Speaking” “Black Love,” “This Is Us” and more. Henderson started with 2,000 books and has 3,200 now. The collection highlights Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) alumni and well-known Black voices ranging from James Baldwin, Amanda Gorman to Barack Obama.

“The sections are a reflection of my personality. I am extremely intentional about book recommendations, especially the coffee table section. I want the African American reader to go beyond the traditional coffee books. My clientele ranges from the five-year-old coming in with their parents to the sophisticated reader. I want my customer base to be diverse, and it is,” says Henderson.

The bookstore was in the plans for the last three years. It started out online and then, as a pop-up. When the current shop showed up for lease, a few blocks from her home, Henderson knew it was time to take the next step.

“I had loved this building for a long time, when I saw the For Lease sign, I put the offer in immediately. I’m not afraid to do things. I took the leap,” she says.

Just recently, the Black English was named among 12 bookstores, selected from 48 applicants, across the country, as the first cohort of “BincTank, the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation’s business incubator pilot program to support BIPOC-owned retail bookselling businesses that are physically located in their community.”

“It was amazing to be selected. I am so honored,” Henderson says.

A retired educator and founder of the HBCU Legacy Project, which is a collection of merchandise created to promote all Historically Black Colleges and Universities in schools and the community, Henderson notes, she finally has the bookstore she always wanted to visit.

“Everyone’s free to read here,” she shares, paying homage to the bookstore’s mantra.

Black English Bookstore is located on 401 E Oak Ave. It is open Wednesdays to Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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