By Hamzat Sani, Special to the AFRO
When Jake Cumsky-Whitlock decided to open Solid State Books he knew he wanted a store that could serve as a third space that would intellectually feed the District’s book ravenous crowd but he also knew that he wanted it to be in a community that was diverse enough to encompass the changing face of the city and it’s longtime residents. Along with business partner Scott Abel, Jake set out to find the perfect home for their bookstore and quickly found that the historically Black H Street NE was the place to be.
By the looks of it their decision to open Solid State Books last year has not been a disappointing one.
Solid State Books, Historic H Street, Washington DC (Photo by Hamzat Sani)
“We’re thrilled to be in our new space and to realize the vision we had for a large, full-service
bookstore and cafe that serves as a neighborhood gathering place,” said Jake, a Boston native with a lifelong love affair with books. “We’re grateful for the warm welcome we received when we opened our pop-up shop, and are excited to expand what we started there into a cultural and intellectual hub that serves our community.”
Solid State Books celebrated their grand opening this past weekend with a slew of events; such as putting on display their community approach to their new neighborhood. In partnership with the Atlas Theatre, the bookstore hosted a book reading, discussion and signing with Actress/Writer Vivica A. Fox, promoting her new book “Everyday I’m Hustling.”
They followed the event with a storytime event for kids, which the bookstore makes great pains to cater to. “We knew we wanted a big kids section because children’s books are huge and it was important for us to get the earliest readers,” said Whitlock.
Between Whitlock and Abel. lies a combined 30 years of bookselling at the D.C. bookstore and institution Kramerbooks and Afterwords. Whitlock spent 15 years at Kramerbooks and ended his time there as the head buyer, while Abel served as the old bookstore’s general manager. After realizing that their time with Kramer’s was coming to an end, the two set out to bring books to a new community with a distinct need for it.
“We knew there was a need for this here… a place for the open exchange of ideas, a place where people could go and touch books and think about things,” Jake Cumsky-Whitlock told The AFRO “Restaurants and bars are great. Coffee shops are great. But a bookstore in this day and age is such a vital third place for people. A place where they can really go that’s not there home, that’s not their work, that’s not just a place to refuel. Where they can just sort of spend some time and just let their mind wander and maybe come across things that they hadn’t thought about.”
The bookstore features a few elements that make it easy to lose a day or two in. In addition to being the largest bookstore in D.C. in 20 years, with an extensive collection of both fiction and nonfiction, the space also houses a bar for coffee, tea, alcohol and wine. Pair this with their extensive events calendar, which includes a “Where’s Waldo Scavenger Hunt” on the 28th, and it’s easy to see oneself picking up the latest Ta-Nehisi Coates offering, grabbing a coffee, taking in a poetry reading and discussing the merits of Drake vs Pusha-T over rosé and never leaving the store.
The bookstore also plans to engage the community it resides in by partnering with local schools on youth focused events and hosting book fairs for them as well. “We want to continue to put forth the idea that books are accessible and they shouldn’t be daunting or scary,” Whitlock told The AFRO. And I think that really needs to happen starting at a young age.”
If you are wondering what books to pick up at the newly opened Solid State Books, check out a few suggested pieces from their head buyer. Nonfiction folks will like “A Spy in Canaan” by Marc Perrusquia which covers the story of an FBI informant who served as one of the most important photographers of the Civil Rights movement. Fiction readers will dig “Welcome to Lagos” by Nigerian author Chibundu Onuza about Nigerian military officers who abandon their post when ordered to commit violence against civilians. Poetry buffs can also pick up the recent offering by the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Kevin Young, “Brown.”
Solid State Books is located at 600 H Street Northeast.