By Nyah Hardmon
This article was first published August 4, 2021 in Washington Independent Review of Books here.
The DC-based indie opens a second store at National Harbor.
With summer in full swing, Anacostia-based MahoganyBooks is set to expand its colorful impact on DC’s literary scene with the opening of a second location, at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Maryland, this Saturday, Aug. 7th, at noon.
According to owners Ramunda and Derrick Young, the new outpost will capture the same intimate spirit of their charter store, while also tapping into novel ways to connect with their community of readers.
“We want people to feel like they have to go to both stores because there’s something unique at each location,” says Derrick.
Along with having nearly double the space of the original venue, this new location will also feature distinct additions like coffee from Jirani Coffeehouse, a fellow Black-owned business. As the Youngs adjust to this transition, they recognize that a brand-new space comes with a brand-new clientele.
“I’m excited to try a new path,” Ramunda says. “There hasn’t been a Black bookstore in [the National Harbor] area, so it’ll be interesting this next year to see what that looks like and what kind of changes we’ll make along the way to really service our customers.”
Both Derrick and Ramunda have taken a hands-on approach to everything in the new space, from fabric selection to interior design. The owners insist that the end result will be a domain that customers can come to know, love, and, most importantly, feel safe within. Thus, the Youngs will continue to follow pandemic-related safety procedures like hosting virtual events, adhering to capacity limits and sanitation protocols, and expanding the use of their curbside-pickup service, Black Books to Go.
“We still want to make sure people feel comfortable,” Derrick explains. “It’s a community bookstore, so we wouldn’t be doing our job if we weren’t there for the community.”
While putting community first means putting a momentary pause on in-person initiatives like their monthly book club, the Youngs are confident that they’ll soon get back to the group gatherings they’ve grown fond of hosting.
Until then, MahoganyBooks has begun to revive smaller in-person events like meet-and-greets as a way to ease book lovers back into the swing of things. Still, because personal contact has been a pillar of the shop since its inception in 2007, both Derrick and Ramunda agree that nothing can compare to face-to-face engagement with customers.
“The energy from our events was amazing and it really fostered community in a great way,” says Ramunda. “I can’t wait until that time and space comes again.”
As the Youngs look to their future, they also look back to the foundation that started it all. Originally an online platform, MahoganyBooks was created to give people across the country access to literature centered around the Black experience. Even before a physical space was a viable option for the business, the Youngs became a consistent neighborhood presence via pop-up events and school engagements. Now, the once-digital platform has not only one brick-and-mortar place to call home, but two.
“Opening up this space really allowed us to create that community that we longed for,” Ramunda says. “It was important for us to have a sacred space where we could just get deep on topics that other people may shy away from.”
Despite the pandemic-related chaos and stress of their new journey, the Youngs remain optimistic and excited for the days to come.
“It’s like giving birth. You have this short amount of time where you’re doing these things that will never happen again, and then for the rest of your life, you’re dealing with the growth,” Derrick says.
“I try to take a step back and enjoy some of these nuanced moments because this is not something people get to do often.”