>While I was in San Francisco for VONA, I wandered off a couple of times just to see parts of the city. One of the places I wanted to see was Marcus Books, which has a store in San Francisco and one in Oakland.

Marcus Books celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. That’s an incredible milestone for a bookstore. An independent bookstore. A Black bookstore.

I had never been to Marcus Books before, but of course now I know the way to any place with an address. As long as my phone battery doesn’t die. When I looked it up, I saw that it really was walking distance from the USF campus, where VONA participants live for a week. So I got in a good long, solitary walk, seeing a little more of the city and I was headed to a bookstore. Joy all around and through me.

While I haven’t been to Marcus Books before, I had met Blanche Richardson, whose parents founded the store, multiple times. She is a regular instructor/presenter/speaker at Tina McElroy Ansa’s Sea Island Writers Retreats and a wonderful writer and incredible editor.

I got a glimpse of Blanche while I was there, but didn’t get to talk to her. I did meet her sister Karen, who told me a little of the history of the neighborhood – which was hosting a jazz festival the next weekend.

But let me back up. The store is in a building that was once a jazz club – where greats like Miles Davis and Billie Holiday would play after hours. After having played in clubs that catered to white audiences. So it is in a historic building and clearly the Richardsons have a great respect for our history.

I was so happy just to be in the store. I love books – obviously! – and Black books and independent stores. Within the first few minutes I had to remind myself that my budget was limited and that I had to get whatever I purchased into my carryon bag.

It’s hard to hold myself back when browsing so many books and seeing not one shelf marked “urban fiction.”

Then I saw the kids section. I was done. It was difficult to choose just 2 books each for our kids. Wonderful to have so many books with images of them on the shelf. Astronauts and boy reporters and boxing legends and strong-willed bakers and more.

The Black bookstore in my city closed years ago. This year one of the independent stores closed. So it’s exciting for me to be in a store with so much to offer, all right there at my fingertips.

I have ordered lots of books online and via a chain store. I still love browsing and buying, though. And the browsing experience is better for me in independent stores.

I’m thankful that I was able to visit Marcus Books this year, during their 50th anniversary. I hope the store has many more years and that I will make it all the way out there again one day.

Do you have a favorite independent bookstore? How is the book buying experience different there? Post away in the comments.

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