A prominent black bookstore and publisher in Fort Greene will close next month, its owner says, because the Department of Education cancelled a lucrative deal to buy textbooks from it.
DARE Books has been catering to an African-American audience on Lafayette Avenue since 1987. But since 2004, the small retail shop and book publisher has stayed afloat thanks to more than $2.3 million in sales to the city school system.
“The book business is a very tough business. It’s partly because I’ve had additional income [from the city] that I’ve been able to stay open,” said owner Desmond Reid (the bookstore’s name, DARE, is short for Desmond A. Reid Enterprises).
“I have to shut down. This location is too expensive to maintain without that contract.”
Reid owns the high-valued building, which is across the street from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He expects to sell the building by the late spring or early summer and relocate to Orlando.
The bulk of his sales have always been children’s books, such as “Black Mother Goose,” a collection of nursery tales, which he published.
“I’ve paved the way to get some of these multicultural books into the school system,” Reid told The Brooklyn Paper. “My main concentration was to get these books to children.”
But in recent years, his bread and butter has come from providing more mainstream books to city schools, such as “Master of the Senate,” the Lyndon Johnson biography by Robert Caro, and “When Washington Crossed the Delaware,” by Lynne Cheney.
The Department of Education said it won’t place new orders with Reid because it consolidated its vendors to a smaller group of large book dealers.
“We have changed our purchasing practices to focus on large bulk purchase and we have seen a savings of more than 30 percent since we implemented the change,” said Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the public school system.
But fans of DARE Books lament that the reported savings to taxpayers has actually inflicted collateral damage on the beloved, minority-run bookshop.
“Our museum often went there to get rare books that we couldn’t find elsewhere to sell in our own gift shop,” said Laurie Cumbo, director of the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, which is on Hanson Place nearby.
“It’s another casualty of the domino effect of businesses of color closing down,” Cumbo said — a trend unleashed by gentrification that has swept through neighborhoods like Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene, which last year claimed 4W, a Fulton Street gallery.
“It’s representative the death of a dream when you see these businesses close,” Cumbo said.