Iconic Black-Owned Bookstore Eso Won Books to Close at the End of the Year

James-fugate-eso-won-books
James Fugate, co-owner of Eco Won Books. Image: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images.

After almost 34 years of existence, Eso Won Books, a landmark in Los Angeles, will close its doors at the end of the year, reports Publisher’s Weekly. The Black-owned bookstore first opened back in 1988.

James Fugate who co-owns Eso Won Books along with Tom Hamilton said it was “fully our plan is to say that we are done at the end of this year,” Last year, Eso Won, which means “water over rocks” in Ethiopian Amharic, was named Publisher’s Weekly Bookstore of the Year.

“I’m 67 and Tom is 68,” he continued. “I’ve been in the book business since 1980 when Reagan was elected president. Both of us are sort of tired of going into work every day, even if it’s only four hours in person and neither of us have had a vacation in over two years.”

Although their friends help them occasionally, Fugate and Hamilton are responsible for stocking the 1,800-square-foot store as well as the online site by themselves. When they were offered a new four-year lease by the owner of the building, they declined. 

“We knew our plan was to close,” said Fugate, “We can end the lease in December.”

“I just emailed a rep and told him I wanted to cancel our appointment on Wednesday, because I can only see us ordering very small quantities of books, maybe three copies of each, because I have people in mind who will want to buy them,” he added.

The online presence of Eso Won Books is also in question.

“Tom says he wants to totally leave it,” Fugate said, noting that during the height of the pandemic they were overwhelmed with 1,000 orders per day to now around 50 orders a day.

Eso Won Books has been a space for the emerging Black writers and artists who’ve come through its doors since its inception. In 1995, an up-and-coming writer and aspiring politician named Barack Obama came to Eso Won and presented his memoir Dreams From My Father to an audience of five people. 10 years later, Obama returned to speak to a crowd of 900.

“I just emailed a rep and told him I wanted to cancel our appointment on Wednesday, because I can only see us ordering very small quantities of books, maybe three copies of each, because I have people in mind who will want to buy them,” he added.

Although Fugate and Hamilton are retiring, after being so impactful to the Black community as an iconic literary resource, they hope that independent publishers and stores can manage to thrive despite changing times.

“It’s not like I won’t miss the book business—I will, and Tom may miss it too,” Fugate continued. “Every so often, we get a 1619 Project from the majors,” he said. “I just hope we continue to have stores that will support Black Classic Press and Africa World Press and [Baltimore-based] African World Books. We are going to need bookstores that make sure those smaller companies are part of the supply chain, and not just the majors.”

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