Culture — March 20, 2020
Major Key Alert!
Key Bookstore is NOT your typical bookstore. It is black-owned. It is woman-owned. It has a monthly reach of 500 to 1,000 people... yet has no physical, brick and mortar location. Confused? Meet its CEO, Khamani Harrison: the creator of a mobile, community-centric bookstore that brings knowledge directly to the people.
Written & Photographed
by Joel Cintron
Harrison, a native of Fontana, California, at first had trouble with reading in elementary school. Thankfully, her parents recognized that there was a problem and found solutions that would improve her reading, which has put her in the position she is in now.
Harrison’s journey to Connecticut came in 2010 when she moved to attend her dream school, the University of Connecticut. Although Harrison had family that lives in the state, it was the campus visit that sealed her desire to attend UCONN. As she recalls, “When I visited the campus, it felt like home… the logo, the campus, the buildings.” In 2014, Harrison would graduate with a Bachelor’s in Environmental Engineering. Instead of returning to California, she decided to stay in Connecticut. When asked why, Harrison explains: “I see so much opportunity in CT, the community is identifiable and there is more familiarity than in CA. Also, the economy of scale is totally different.”
The inspiration to start Key Bookstore came two years after Harrison’s graduation from UCONN. In 2016, she was disgusted at what she was witnessing on social media and the news. At this time, Black people were continuously being assassinated without consequence and it was causing trauma within her community. During the Trayvon Martin case, Harrison felt a need to find answers as to why this was happening with such frequency. However, she preferred to do it offline through printed sources. Her initial searches at the public libraries came up unsuccessful and left her frustrated. Simply put: the books and genres that Harrison was seeking were not being offered at her local bibliotheca. It is this dilemma that would eventually be the inspiration for creating her own bookstore.
“The books and genres that Harrison was seeking were not being offered at her local bibliotheca. It is this dilemma that would eventually be the inspiration for creating her own bookstore.”
Harrison prides Key Bookstore as being an engaging force that brings the books to the people. Without a physical storefront, it allows her to actively connect with her community without such a high overhead. Currently a one-womxn show, Harrison and her mobile book front set up shop at local community events and spaces. From open mics to barbershops to child literacy events at CREC, Key Bookstore is there. Her bookstore contains a multitude of genres that include: African History, Economic Empowerment, and Children’s Short Stories. There is something for everyone.
“A lot of people sell the same books. But the way I feel like we’re able to create community and spark conversations … Key brings the material.”
Although Harrison does not have a physical location, she has found a way to have two fixed installations in CT. She calls them “Book Bars.” Currently, she has two located at Cultured AF Studio on 176 State Street in New London as well as Fire and Spice on 491 Capitol Ave in Hartford. Each contain a curated selection for the specific clientele of the given location.
Just recently, Harrison was able to add another component to her bookstore. Through a successful Kickstarter campaign, she received the funding to create a website for Key Bookstore: www.keybookstore.com. The website is now operational and allows for the bookstore to connect with even more readers. Bibliophiles not only have access to buy books, but also to connect with one another. It is Harrison’s vision that this platform can create a virtual community of readers through online forums, book club partnerships, and the sale of book boxes and other merchandise.
Overall, Harrison’s goal for the future is to be a catalyst for re-integrating reading culture into society. In 2020 and beyond, she hopes that Key Bookstore can partner with more schools, businesses, communities, and local authors to make this happen. After all, the mission statement of the bookstore is: Divine Liberation, one page at a time.