Featured Bookstore: Harriett's Bookshop
There’s not a lot of typically touristy things I do when I’m first in a city. I’m pretty no-fuss about food, I’d prefer to eat a sandwich at a chill diner counter over 5-star restaurants. Museums can be cool, but I’ll admit I sometimes lack the attention span to devote the hours needed to justify the ticket price. The one thing I usually do look up and visit is the area’s local independent bookstores, so Nomadic will have periodic features on bookstores.
Philadelphia has a lot of great independent bookstores: Uncle Bobbie's Coffee & Books, Joseph Fox Bookshop, Wooden Shoe Books, Giovanni’s Room, and Harriett’s Bookshop—the last of which was only a few blocks down from my Fishtown Airbnb.
Harriett's Bookshop, named for historical heroine Harriett Tubman, opened in February 2020, only weeks before the pandemic hit. This unfortunate timing might have crushed other small business owners, but founder Jeannine A. Cook got creative with these limitations. She took the shop outside, making it a sidewalk community space. She launched a successful GoFundMe campaign and traveled around the country to donate books to fellow Black Lives Matter activists. By the time the shop could operate indoors again, Harriett’s Bookshop was nationally well known. Cook was able to open a sister shop (Ida’s Bookshop) and Will Smith launched his memoir at the store.
One thing I love about Harriet’s Bookshop is that the books are given room to breathe. You won’t find disorganized shelves crammed top to bottom here. Books are displayed on cube shelves, usually with no more than one or two titles in each cube. This makes everything in the store feel like a curated selection and as if each book has its own spotlight. There’s a great backyard space too.
✨What I purchased✨
There were many books I spotted on my to-read list: Black Futures edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham, Outlawed by Anna North, Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor, and Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson. I’m doing this write-up months after I visited and the fact that I can remember the store’s selection from memory shows the power in having such a curated shop. But ultimately, I went with a book that’s unique to Harriet’s—Conversations with Harriett written by Jeannine A. Cook.
How often do you get a chance to purchase a book directly from the writer, in the shop she owns? And like all book purchases from Harriet’s, it is lovingly bound in twine.
✨Additional articles about Harriett's bookshop✨
“This Philadelphia Bookstore Honors Harriet Tubman's Legacy With Literature, Art, and Activism” by Jessica Poitevien in Travel & Leisure
“Harriett’s Jeannine A. Cook on Her New Collingswood Store and Being a Black Woman in Fishtown” by Victor Fiorillo in Philly Mag
“These two small businesses survived the pandemic. Here’s how they did it” by Kristen A. Graham in The Philadelphia Inquirer
This concludes the Philadelphia section of Nomadic. In addition to this feature on Harriett’s Bookshop, I interviewed Benjamin DeVos in Wissahickon Valley Park about his Philadelphia-based press Apocalypse Party and wrote about solitude while walking under the neon lights of Geno’s Steaks. And there were guest posts by Philadelphia locals: Jodi Bosin on Schuylkill River, Kathia Woods on Reading Terminal Market, and Kiki Volkert on Rittenhouse Square. I have a few more short trips to summarize, but post-Omicron, where in the United States should I go next?