HANDS OFF THE KNOW BOOK STORE: ONE OF THE LAST STANDING BLACK BOOK STORES IN THE SOUTHEAST
By FAHIM A. KNIGHT-EL
This article is about one of the few and last standing black book stores in the southeast named the Know Book Store; located at 2520 Fayetteville Street in Durham, North Carolina, which is being threatened by deceptive forces to close its doors. I have not written on a local issue relative to Durham, North Carolina in any of my Blogs/articles because I had become extremely bored with local politics and the political stagnation associated with trying to decipher which agency—the county commissioners or the city council have more power to continue stealing the taxpayers money.
Durham has two legal govern bodies—county commissioners (county manger) and city council, where the mayor functions as the chief executive officer of the city, sought of because you also have a city manager (appointed position and serve as a nonelected official on the city council) who oversees the bureaucratic governing of the city.
Perhaps it is this confusion and ineffective political structuring that has turned me completely off from covering local politics. Yes, quite as it is kept the city is run by Duke University and powerful land developers and in realty, none of the governing entities have any power other than what Duke gives these political puppets.
But I did write an article on November 15, 2008, titled, “REVISITING THE DUKE UNIVERSITY LACROSSE CASE: THE REAL DEAL” and this was perhaps the first blog/article that have done in some time, which had a local connection with Durham. However, I could not resist the controversy swirling around the Know Book Store and this alone caused me to weigh in on this subject.
This dispute between the Know Book Store and the McLaughlin Group has somewhat divided Durham’s African American community. I am of the opinion, no amount of grant money could justify how much the Know Book Store has meant to the community. Some of the black bourgeoisie who are opposing this black book store, is more concern with so-called economic development and getting some economic crumbs from the master and others like myself feel a sense of obligation to protect this viable cultural institution. Many of these handkerchief head Negroes in this reactionary sector desire to play politics as usual—some of them are the same ones who sold us out in the 1960s and 1970s with the concept of Urban Renewal and now they are covertly pushing re-gentrification. They are known to cut backroom deals for themselves and we all are considered expendable in the game of politics.
I truly do not know what to say about Durham. Durham is a very conservative city disguised in liberal clothing and our race relations are shrouded in a good ole boy and good ole girl network that consist of African Americans and Caucasians. It is a nicely interwoven click that has the power to reward and punish. I still live in Durham, but I must admit that I am guilty of not following Durham's political or local issues as I once did. However, I do understand and accept that all politics are local.
Black book stores across this country have always served at the center of black activism and community based organizing; In addition, they have served as venues for black intellectuals, activist, educators, revolutionaries, etc., always having the unmitigated opportunity to speak directly to the black community, which this access provided many of them with platforms throughout black America. The large corporate book chains like Barnes and Nobles and Borders Book did not because they catered to the larger sector of society. These large corporate book chains in the last fifteen years have forced a sizable amount of small local book stores out of business and of course, Amazon books and the internet e-commerce have dramatically changed and altered the traditional book industry.
Thus, it even impacted small black book stores more, who found it difficult to compete and to be competitive with this new book business economic trends. This along with the influence of technology—Kindle 2, cell phones and the entire Internet culture and how information is being disseminated has proven to be far challenging for the traditional book industry and the print news industry (even book publishing has been revolutionized by this new computer age). Thus, many small print mediums have fallen by the waste side because they were not able to keep up with the advancing technological trends, which has impacted the market and many did not have the vision or the capital to remain competitive and/or to diversify their book businesses.
For example, Barnes and Nobles gives you that Internet Café persona with coffee and pastry shop inside the store (the full service effect). The Internet Café trends are big in Europe and it is starting to make huge inroads within the United States. I heard someone recently say that there used to be over five hundred (500) black book stores located throughout the United States and now there are less than twenty (20) left. This is alarming because when I published my first book, I could not get a major publishing house deal nor was I looking for one, but my work was carried and distributed by small African American book stores. So I will always be grateful to this medium.
This writer is not naïve to the fact and knows that some of reasons black book stores have gone out of business is directly tied to the recent economic depression that we are experiencing inside the United States, but black book stores had been experiencing financial and economic problems long before this economic depression. The Know Book store has been in operation for over twenty-five years founded by Dr. Bruce Bridges, a former college professor of Saint Augustine College (Raleigh, NC) and who also taught at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina.
Bridges, professor turned entrepreneur had a vision of establishing an intellectual hub where ideals and theories could be debated that weren’t being covered by the mainstream media. The Know Book is in a city where education and intellectualism is big—the store is ten minutes away from the campus of the prestigious Duke University and twenty minutes away from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and two minutes away from one of the best historical black universities and colleges in American—North Carolina Central University. Last but not least, it is thirty minutes from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.
These centers of learning are mentioned in order to give my readers a small glimpse into Durham being not just an up and coming city, but it stands as a citadel of learning in the southeast. The Know Book Store formally began at its old location of 306 South Dillard Street and in last fifteen years it relocated to 2552 Fayetteville Street its present location and home, where Dr. Bridges has leased this space from the McLaughlin Group since that time. The location is in the heart of the black community, sandwiched between a Church’s Chicken and strip mall consisting of a string of mom and pops type black businesses.
Bridges having an innovative business mind, perhaps nine years ago saved his business by establishing a restaurant inside the bookstore based on having the square footage to do so and without a doubt this part of his business has been more profitable than the selling of books. He continued to improvise with the establishment of a jazz club where on Friday’s local Jazz musicians can be heard on the restaurant side of the business; thus, unlike many black book stores Dr. Bridges was able to diversify and revive his book store from going under.
The McLaughlin Group, the property owners of Know Book Store applied in March 2009 for a grant pursuant to a Request for Proposal (RFP) for neighborhood development that was being solicited by the city and would come under the Economic and Workforce Development office, which was designed to stimulate economic development in various depressed areas of the city and the grant in question had a target area of town known today as the Fayetteville Street Corridor where the book store is presently located.
The McLaughlin Group met all the RFP requirements with the potential of receiving a hundred seventy five thousand dollar grant which would assist in renovating the existing structure and would allow them to submit their business proposal to a private lending source which to request an additional four hundred seventy five thousand ($475.00) dollars in order to expand the square footage of the building, as well as make other physical improvements to the building.
The McLaughlin Group claimed to have already spent over twenty-five thousand ($25,000) in hiring architects and engineers, and construction consultants and planners in order to submit blue prints and other engineered based specifications to city officials. The McLaughlin Group proposed establishing three to four commercial establishments—book store, restaurant, museum, Jazz Club, etc. This is how the McLaughlin Group characterized their business venture.
Ms. McLaughlin is seeking funding ($ 175,000) from the City of Durham to add a second story and additional space to 2520 Fayetteville Street. Once completed, the 2-story building will be home to 4 businesses -- a restaurant, bookstore, boutique and a neighborhood arts center (The Mok’e Jazz & Cultural Center). Some of the exciting new features of the building will include roof-top garden and outdoor patio seating for the restaurant. The Mok’e Center will offer a variety of cultural activities and events, including but not limited to visual, musical and performing arts, for the enjoyment, creative expression and enrichment of the surrounding community. The bookstore and the boutique will provide retail products and services to the area. It is envisioned that the new development will become a cultural destination, promote tourism to the historic Fayetteville Street corridor and give a much-needed boost to the area’s economy.
This somewhat infuriated me, because the Know Book Store already has a restaurant, jazz club and is a book store—let me interpreted this even further. Why would the city of Durham even consider such proposal when it will bring displacement and possible economic hardship on an already proven and established business? But not only that, this project appears to be quite risky and proposed to use taxpayers’ money for such a project is outright reckless and irresponsible to ask the citizens of Durham to finance an unproven establishment.
Durham City Councilman, Eugene Brown who is white, was the only councilperson that came straight out at the last city council meeting held on September 21, 2009 and said that the project did not make good fiscal sense, in particular during these hard economic times. This writer commends Brown’s courage and honesty in questioning the economic feasibility of the project and the so-called long term economic projections that is being lauded. Brown is a real estate man and I am relying on his expert opinion in this matter.
Councilman Brown just does not see the plausibility of contributing taxpayer’s dollars to a project that has more questions than answers. I agree with Brown. The project is a contingence project meaning the McLaughlin Group must first have $475.000 dollars in place from a private lending source before the city of Durham will release the $175.000 grant.
There is only one lending institution that is seriously looking at financing the project and that is Mechanics and Farmers (M&F) Bank, one of the oldest black banks in the United States. But supposed M&F Bank decide not to finance the McLaughlin project. How many man hours, tax dollars, public hearings and other city resources that we would have squandered away by not requiring the McLaughlin group to have more lending prospects on the table?
Thus, you would have thought that the Durham City Council and city manager and the Economic and Workforce Development director would have required the group to submit no less than ten lenders as part of their RFP portfolio. The Mayor, William “Bill” Bell sits on the board of directors of Mechanics and Farmers Bank and although it is only proper that he legally recues himself from playing any role in the bank decision relative to the McLaughlin Group. However, he must have some indication of which direction the bank is leaning (tell me Bill and I promise not to publically reveal the decision).
This writer is going on record to state that if Mechanics and Farmers decide to finance this project it’s going to be financially disastrous and I project foreclosure in less than five years. The Economic and Workforce Development Director, Kevin Dick appears to be highly incompetent and has not done the proper due diligence relative to this project and this was evident when Mayor Bell asked him was the McLaughlin project, a for profit or nonprofit venture.
Mr. Dick answered, that it was a for profit venture. But Mayor Bell pointed out that the submitted Performa did not have itemized federal and state income taxes included as expenditure to be incurred by the McLaughlin group and this could affect the projected profit margin. For this reason Mayor Bell postponed the vote until the next City Council meeting which is scheduled for October. It appears that Dick and some members of the city council have pushed this proposed grant along because of the property owner Ms. Mozella McLaughlin long time ties to the Durham Community as an educator and business women.
This writer too applauds her impeccable record of service to the community, but business is business and taxpayer’s monies should not be allocated to support a system of cronies and disguised nepotism in the name of community development. This woman is ninety-two years old (I could only pray that the Creator blesses me with that type of life longevity) and should this age variable be overlooked in the overall decision making process.
City Councilman Farad Ali, a freshmen councilman who has been the most vocal opposition against Dr. Bridges and based on his position of opposing the black book store, I am of the opinion that he is undeserving of a second term on the council. I am personally asking the black electorate of Durham to vote him out of office and not reward him a second term to violate the trust of his constituency. No one that opposes the legitimate political aspirations of our community deserve to serve as our representatives on any political level. Ali is being perceived by many in the black community as a traitor and a turncoat, but his leader, teacher and guide Imam Warith Deen Mohammed (the son of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad) betrayed political aspirations of black people in the name of kissing Arabs ass, why should we expect anymore or less from Councilman Ali?
Ali comes across as having a personal vendetta against the Know Book Store’s owner Dr. Bruce Bridges and his comments are divisive and subjective. This writer has always considered his father, Munir Ali as a friend, but on the issue of the book store both of the Alis’ are wrong. They have tried to oversimplify this issue to a tenant-landlord dispute (no it is much bigger than that) and want the community to overlook the deception and manipulation that is taking place on various levels. No Sir, the Know Book Store is an institution, it is even bigger than the owner and founder, Dr. Bruce Bridges and we should not allow the black proponents to dupe us into going along with this trickery. What’s in this deal for Councilman Farad Ali?
There are two more tricksters out there Larry and Denise Hester; thus in an email that I received from Denise Hester stated: “ regarding Ms. McLaughlin’s development, I would like to add that Bruce signed a letter of intent to remain in the building once the construction has been completed. His letter of intent was submitted as part of Ms. McLaughlin’s package to the city and is a part of the public record on this project if you want to check it out. The other questions involve matters between Ms. McLaughlin and Bruce as landlord and tenant which we cannot answer.”
The McLaughlin group in initially inviting Dr. Bridges to the table was more about bringing credibility and economic integrity to their project because the Know Book Store was a well established business and long standing tenant of the property. It stood as proof positive of success and as an example of a thriving business already at the said location. They were not doing Dr. Bridges and the Know Book Store any favors to include them in the proposal, it was about them putting on the best business face for their lenders and not necessarily working in the best interest of the Know Book Store.
Lets not fool ourselves without Bridges they would have been considered a startup group, but they were looking to divert this stigma in order to appear as a well established business entity at the said location. Dr. Bridges at the last city council meeting presented a counter plan in the form of a written letter asking the City Council to assist him financially as they are assisting the McLaughlin Group. I must say the following council persons Howard Clement, Cora McFadden and even Mayor Bell appeared partial to Bridges request. This article tells it just like it is, I do not know any other way to tell it. Please give Dr. Bridges a holler at 919.682.7223 and tell him you read Fahim A. Knight-EL article and you stand in support of the book store.
Fahim A. Knight-EL Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of good will of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolisms and reinterpret the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlighten world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
STAY AWAKE UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN,
Fahim A. Knight-EL