April 30th is National Independent Bookstore Day, held each year on the last Saturday in April to celebrate the uniqueness of independent bookstores across the country.
Located near Washington and 12th streets in Phoenix, Grassrootz Books and Juice Bar is the only Black-owned independent bookstore in Arizona. Founded by Ali Nervis at the start of the pandemic, the store received a huge boost in orders from the Phoenix community following the Black Lives Matter movement, which aims to support Black-owned businesses.
From titles like “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap” and “White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” the bookstore offers content that highlights and educates on the Black experience.
Nervis proudly boasts that “each purchase from Grassrootz Bookstore helps to fund grassroots activism, education and economic development efforts in Phoenix.”
Shortly after Nervis created the store’s website in early 2020, the orders came rushing in following the murder of George Floyd.
“We got hundreds of orders of the same book in two days,” Nervis said. “It was great to see the support, but it also was very nerve wracking.”
Nervis and his bookstore are active on Facebook and Instagram, and his social media presence helped garner awareness about his brand and offerings. The store was mentioned in several posts shared on both social media platforms calling for the community to support Black-owned businesses.
And the call to action worked. Nervis calls the experience “nerve-wracking” because he didn’t have 100 copies of “White Fragility” and his distributor was sold out as well.
Instead of panicking, he used his social media sites as a platform to share information about the situation, which was also complicated by the pandemic. And he sent an email to customers apologizing for the potential delay in receiving their packages.
Since those early days, Nervis has worked to expand the store’s inventory and add a juice bar component. After closing for a period during the pandemic, Grassrootz relied on social media again by hosting a storytime event for children on Fridays on the bookstore’s Facebook page using Facebook Live. As the store returns to a sense of normalcy, author signings and discussions are being added and promoted via Facebook Events.
“We find ourselves in the position to help educate our society and hopefully, we can bring sustainable change one customer at a time,” Nervis said.