UMN grad looks to bring only Black-owned bookstore to Minnesota

Beginning its crowdfunding campaign this weekend, Black Garnet Books will stock work from Black and racially diverse authors.

 Photo by Trista Marie McGovern. Courtesy of Dionne Sims. 

 Photo by Trista Marie McGovern. Courtesy of Dionne Sims. 

Nina Raemont

When Dionne Sims realized that there wasn’t a Black-owned bookstore within state lines, she knew she would have to be the one to change that. 

Sims, a University of Minnesota graduate, took a week off of work as a user experience designer after the killing of George Floyd to support her Twin Cities community. During that week, Sims’ devotion to serving her community incited a will for change.

“I told my friends that I need to be doing something that allows me to be face to face with people who live in Minneapolis/St. Paul and to specifically support Black people, especially in a time when we need support and care and joy because of how hard living in a racially unequal country is,” she said.

So, as a lifelong reader and lover of literature, she searched to see if any Black-owned bookstores existed in Minnesota. There were none. 

“I just felt so strongly that one should exist, and it seemed very wrong that it didn’t already,” she said. 

Sims ended up tweeting to her followers her dream to bring a Black-owned bookstore to Minnesota. And the tweet blew up. Now, with over 700 retweets and 14,000 likes, the tweet has reached the attention of big names in the book club world, including Noname, the Chicago-based rapper who runs a book club that highlights two stories by BIPOC authors each month.

With the support of her community behind her, Sims hired a lawyer, filed for an LLC, created a vision statement and name and made the public announcement. The name of the bookstore, Black Garnet Books, comes from the idea of the mineral, black garnet, as a symbol of self-empowerment, safety and strength – three ideas books have provided her throughout her life and three things that people within the Black community need right now, Sims said.

“I want this space to be a place where people can go and find strength, specifically find that strength within literature but also within the people you can connect with in that space,” Sims said. 

Caleigh Gumbiner, a friend of Sims’, recounted Sims’ dream of opening her own bookstore as something that was a long time coming. 

“I totally trust and believe in her to make this tangible. This is not willy-nilly, although it seems to have popped up quickly. For her, it’s been a longtime goal, and I’m proud of her. Looking at the reaction of the community, this is something we’re hungry for,” said Gumbiner. 

Gumbiner described Sims as tenacious yet grounded and realistic: “This is a really big dream, but she’s not unaware of that. She’s ready for the work.”

Sims plans to stock “Adult and YA contemporary literature by Black and racially-diverse authors” per Black Garnet’s website information. The crowdfunding campaign will begin Friday, July 10. Soon after the crowdfunding campaign starts, Black Garnet Books will begin its online store through the independent bookstore platform, Bookshop.org. 

Once Black Garnet Books receives enough funding to buy physical inventory, the store will hold pop-up shops around the Twin Cities and have a temporary location at Aldrich Tattoo Parlour on Lyndale Avenue.

Ezra Hyland, a University of Minnesota teaching specialist within the School of Social Work, spoke about the necessity of bookstores as anchor institutions, the base other institutions can grow out of. 

“You can know a community by the kinds of institutions it builds. Bookstores to the secular community are what churches were to the African American community,” said Hyland. “The bookstore became the place where folks met, where debates and discussions were held. It’s critical in these communities of color.”

Sims hopes Black Garnet Books will act as a steadfast sanctuary for community members.

“I really want people to be able to step in the space and say, ‘There is someone on the cover of a book that looks just like me’ and ‘There is a story that I identify with,’” Sims said. “But also there are stories that I don’t identify with, and that’s fantastic. And that’s how we learn about the world and each other.”

Correction: A previous version of this article was published with an inaccurate headline. Black Garnet Books will be the only Black-owned bookstore in Minnesota