By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
As a child Tikesha Williams found the library near her family home in Petersburg to be not only a place to read and meet friends but a safe refuge.
In high school, her first after-school job was at the Virginia Avenue School Library.
“I recall the librarian there reinforced in me the importance of reading,” she said. “I knew early I wanted to work at a library or own a bookstore of my own.”
In 2019, just before COVID hit, Williams started selling books online.
The COVID pandemic sharpened her ability to sell books since many public libraries and bookstores were closed or restricted how people moved about in either.
Sometime early last year, an acquaintance called and informed Williams that a bookstore in Newport News was for sale.
Last November, Williams’ lifelong dream came true. She sealed the deal to buy the four-decades-old “Paperback, Ink – All Booked up” bookstore at 9716 Warwick Boulevard in Newport News.
Since then, Williams has applied a few coats of paint, added more shelves, a coffee shop, and even a number of new and used titles in the storefront outlet.
Williams, who is also an insurance adjuster, commutes for 1.5 hours between Petersburg and Newport News.
Her husband and children still live in Petersburg as she shares a house in Newport News.
“That hour-and-a-half commute gives me time to think, plan my days and collect my thoughts,” she said. “This has been a huge investment. But I am now working for myself in my bookstore.”
Williams said that business is good. She has a staff of seven who help her keep things going. People of varying ages and races patronize the place, browsing for new and old titles to read or they sit and enjoy a nice free cup of coffee.
“A lot of people don’t know we are here yet,” she said. “So, I have to do a little more marketing. But when they do come in, they are amazed that it’s so bright and new.”
“There are a lot of elderly and retired people who come in just to get out of the house,” she said. “There are even a lot of young people. They like our prices; they can get three used books for $20. Seniors get discounts, too; so, we are affordable.”
There are 127 Black-owned bookstores in the United States, according to a recent census by the website “Oprah Daily.”
Williams, 48, now owns one of seven African-American-owned bookstores in Virginia, according to the website of her Paperback, Ink in Newport News. There are two in Virginia Beach, one in Norfolk, and Chesapeake.
With Black authors penning more books with varied themes, the idea of bookstores going the way of Radio Shack or Sears Mega stores may be a myth, Williams said.
Also, the idea that African-Americans are not readers is bogus, she said.
“Black people do read,” said Williams. “This is one stigma which is ceasing with Black people.”
Williams held the official ribbon-cutting for her Warwick Boulevard site recently and it was well attended.