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Black-owned bookstore started with a viral tweet; nearly two years later, it's still growing

After flourishing online, Black Garnet Books is now helping get books into classrooms and will soon open its first store.

MINNEAPOLIS — On a busy day inside Houston White's The Get Down Coffee Shop in north Minneapolis, an up-and-coming entrepreneur was stopping traffic just outside the entrance.

"I heard you're opening up a Black bookstore!" 
"I am."
"That's awesome! Where in St. Paul?" 
"Congratulations. I'll be over." 
"Yes. Please, please."

Dionne Sims has had a lot of similarly enthusiastic conversations ever since she took to Twitter in July of 2020, to share a couple of realizations: "Minnesota doesn't have a black-owned bookstore. I think that's my new dream."

At the time, Sims says she was simply looking to support black authors and a Black-owned businesses following the murder of George Floyd. She wasn't alone. Her tweet quickly went viral and the rest is Black history.

"The response was overwhelming," she said.

A GoFundMe campaign quickly topped $113,000, and as she tried to keep up with a flood of initial online orders, she made the decision to hold off on opening a brick-and-mortar store before she was ready.

Dionne Sims: "For me, it was really important to just start out small. I started with my pop-up shops, and that was a way for me to get all around the city doing events, getting to meet people, getting the word out."

Kent Erdahl: "What is it about the words 'Black-owned' that mean so much to you?"

Sims: "It's about being a part of the conversation, it's about being able to have an effect on culture, having an effect on our neighborhoods in the ways that we already do as consumers. You know, the Black dollar goes very far, but often, that money is not going back into our communities in the ways that it deserves to."

Sims recently put her words into action by joining an online book drive in hopes of providing free copies of Nikole Hannah-Jones' book, "The 1619 Project," to a teacher at Patrick Henry High School.

Sims: "I told her, 'don't get your hopes up, I'm going to do my best to get you a classroom set of books, but we'll just see how it goes.'"

Erdahl: "And how did it go?"

Sims: (Laughing) "It went really well. It went really, really well. We ended up with over 750 donations. Nikole Hannah-Jones herself shared the book drive, and now I've got almost 20 middle schools and high schools that will be receiving copies of the book, just from the book drive."

In light of recent racist incidents at Minnesota schools, she says the books - and the conversations they'll start - can't come soon enough.

"Our youth are already feeling the impacts of our decisions and even our grandparents decisions, and so it's important not to act like they aren't... or that they're not ready to hear about our history or our past," Sims said. "It's important that they know these things so that they are able to arm themselves with education and with knowledge, and also with empathy and understanding and compassion."

She added, "It feels like a crossroads. It feels like so much is coming to a head. We're reckoning with so much that I hope people don't get lost in the feeling of being overwhelmed by how much we're reckoning with right now. I think one way to move out of that loneliness is through books."

Dionne says her dream will be fully realized late this summer, when her first permanent location finally opens in St. Paul. In the meantime, she's hosting another pop-up shop this Sunday, Feb. 27, from 12:30-3 p.m. at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis.

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