New Beacon Books is the first ever black bookshop not only in Islington, but in the whole UK, selling books written by black authors. New Beacon Books opened its doors in 1966 and it created a platform for African-Caribbean independent literature. The family-run shop was becoming a victim of the gentrification and it was about to close due to pressures from e-retailers such as Amazon. However, the bookshop managed to receive more 11,000 pounds in less than one month with crowdfunding and its owners are keen to keep the business running.
Janice, founder’s daughter, has been sitting at this till since 1970s. She runs a shop with the help of her sun Ronaldo, son’s wife Vanessa, Vanessa’s mother and grandchildren. She says: “It is a family business in every sense.” But even if they needed extra help, Janice admits that a shop could not afford new staff members. She keeps very close relationship with customers and authors. “Engagement is crucial in an independent shop,” – she says.
Mumar Toure (above, on the right) is one of the most loyal customers in New Beacon Books. He has been coming here since he was a teenager. Despite him moving to the other part of London, he comes regularly to a bookshop and brings his children at least once a month. He says that apart from the front display and a computer, the bookshop looks exactly the same as in 1970s. For Mumar, New Beacon books is more than a bookshop. It is a space for meeting, learning, exchanging ideas and, most importantly, community.
In the second floor of the bookstore, there is a meeting space, as well as a place to honour the legacy of the founder, John La Rose. The posters on the wall showcase previous exhibitions on his work, one of which was held recently in Islington Museum (Dream to Change the World: the Life & Legacy of John La Rose). Vanessa La Rose, his grandson’s wife, has initiated a successful crowdfunding that saved a bookshop and helped to continue John La Rose’s legacy.