Flint, MI — As Flint residents wait for the grand reopenings of their favorite go-to spots, they can also look forward to new and innovative spaces, like Comma Bookstore & Social Hub, a community-centered, black-owned bookstore, located downtown.
The shop, set to open September of 2020, is only the second independent bookstore to open in the area. This new space is intended to focus on black and brown voices, alongside other underrepresented or “progressive” groups of authors and artists.
“It’s something that is missing here in Flint … I believe that our book selection should be reflective of the community that lives here and because we are so multifaceted, and we have so many different identities and intersections, I think it’s important to be intentional in the type of inventory you have for your books,” explained Egypt Otis, owner and visionary for the store.
She mentioned some other genres she means to include outside of the broad category of “Black and brown authors,” like LGBTQ, feminism, civil rights, and immigration.
Being someone who has fostered many partnerships and relationships through their work as a community and political organizer, Otis has had an advantage when it comes to cultivating a variety of local art and products.
“I already had people in mind as I was doing this, and the reason I created this bookstore and space to have Black and brown artists is because I knew that there was a desperate need for it,” Otis said.
“We really need to support our local artists, our local writers, and really show them support by not only appreciating their art but compensating them,” Otis said, adding that in addition to selling books she also plans to host events, and programs for young adults.
“That’s something that’s very important to me so they can continue to enjoy their craft. And creating a platform where we can do that and being intentional and addressing the inequities experienced by black and brown artists and writers is something that really makes me excited,” she said.
Otis has observed a “wonderful” response from the community at large, who has supported her efforts through praise, encouragement, and donations. She’s received more than $11,000 through her GoFundMe campaign, has had a successful recent book drive, and other black women and independent bookstore owners have reached out to give advice and tips to running a sustainable business.
“I have no words to express the surprise and just the overwhelming sense of happiness that I have because it just shows you how much people actually want this and see the value of having it here,” she said.
So what is the value of having this sort of space in a community like Flint? Apart from an inclusive book selection, Otis thinks some of that value lies in black female ownership.
“Black women bring around a different perspective than other people because of the fact that we do experience different types of barriers, so we’re able to address issues so that other people can have more equitable experiences, as business owners in general,” she said.
Addressing those issues seems to be at the top of Otis’s priority list, and she already has plans for the future, including a number of youth initiatives.
Otis is, in fact, the second black woman to own a bookstore at her location. The space used to be the home of Pages Bookstore, which was also owned by a black woman.
“(Kusoma Kids Club) is a kids program where we basically bridge the gap between literacy, art, music, and wellness and, by staying true to our philosophy, provide more inclusive and representative events and books within the kids club,” says Otis about one initiative.
While the shop will have its grand opening in September, Otis plans to host a soft opening on August 29, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., featuring live performances by local artists alongside light refreshments.
“I think it’s important that we create a space where everyone can communicate with one another and get to know each other. I’m hoping that this bookstore can do just that: create a sense of community,” she says.
Comma Bookstore is located at 526 Buckham Alley.