“We always get up.” Black-owned bookstore in Newark navigates pandemic

In the summer, he closed half the store and planned an expansion. Sawdust mixed with incense as he knocked down walls, raised the ceiling, turned an elevator shaft into an office, and relocated the cash register under the stairs. Its second-floor tenant, Walm N’Dure, has extended the fitness center he runs to the roof, setting up a climbing course filled with nets and a retractable awning.

“It was always a fight, ups and downs, lots of mishaps,” Mr George said. “Despite all of this, we are still rising.”

Mr. George had never expected to peddle artisan wares. Born in Tobago, he grew up barefoot and sleeping on the ground. Her grandmother was illiterate and her formal education ended after fifth grade. At age 17, he emigrated to East New York with his mother, Brenda, and twin brother, Derrick. It was a difficult transition. One morning Mr. George woke up with a cold and told his mother that he was going outside to find some herbs in a bush, the place he usually went for natural healing methods, and make them. boil.

She laughed.

“I have to take you to a pharmacy,” she said.

“What’s in a pharmacy? ” he said.

“Medicine,” she said.

He worked as a welder until he suffered a herniated disc in his back. He found purpose selling books on the sidewalks of Manhattan before saving money to open a bookstore across the Hudson. His first store was on Branford Place, where he developed a reputation for being reserved. On payday, Masani Barnwell, a kindergarten teacher in Newark, walked in to buy books for the students in her class with characters that resembled the children in her class. She wanted them to be inspired by it and bought copies of author Fred Crump’s series, which tell traditional fairy tales with black characters. She saw another side of Mr. George.

“He wasn’t that quiet,” she said. “He approached me.”