New Beacon Books is in many ways set apart from the majority of London’s book shops. In regards to variety and careful selection of stock, the Waterstones Economists’ Bookshop on the campus of the LSE is one of the only stores we have visited that comes even close – and even this falls piteously short in comparison.
New Beacon Books developed into a powerhouse for black publishing after being established in 1966, 50 years ago now. Though their publishing activity has since declined, the store still sells a sizeable amount of books pertaining to black experiences. Sarah White, who cofounded the store with her late partner, John La Rose, can still be found behind the counter there. From the fictional offerings of authors like Wole Soyinka, to non-fiction texts about everything from the African economy to the transatlantic slave trade, to lighter books, games and even arts and crafts for young children, this store is certainly a haven for book-lovers from or interested in the black diaspora. They even stock black greeting cards, adding Clintons next to WHSmiths and Foyles on the list of stores that could begin to lose relevance to BME demographics if New Beacon Books became more prominent. One could easily spend a ridiculous amount of both time and money there.
Yet while the establishment has been etched into Black British memory and is to be celebrated for its significant contribution the literary landscape, there was something incredibly sad about the declining trajectory of New Beacon Books. On some days, the store may not open for trade at all, due to staff shortages. And although open six hours a week, the opening hours are short, lasting between 1.30pm – 6pm. The premises itself, for all its historical and symbolic significance, is exhausted. The bright red paint which decorates the façade of the shop has at least faded into a dull orange where it is not peeling away altogether. These are symptoms of a struggling store, suffering both from the general woes of running a small independent book store in an increasingly digitised world as well as the apparent impossibility of sustaining alternative, radical spaces in an otherwise whitewashed city. It was projected that New Beacon Books would cease to operate as a bookstore come January 2017.
Thankfully though, a rigorous and encouraging crowdfunding campaign has successfully raised £10,000 in just 20 days which has secured the future of the store. With this money, the store will be renovated and reinvigorated. A website will also be created for the outlet, which now has a presence on social media, which is vital to the survival of businesses within this digital age. Do take a visit, not only to support this business and ensure it remains for decades to come but also to be amazed by the specialist and careful selection of books stocked.