A Boost in Business at Loyalty Bookstores

The fate of the Black-owned bookstore in Silver Spring was uncertain at the start of COVID-19. Then the demand for books about race and social justice skyrocketed.

Hannah Oliver Depp, owner of Loyalty Bookstores in Silver Spring and DC
Photo: David Stuck

“When you purchase an antiracist title from a Black bookstore, you are engaging in antiracist action with your purchasing power—with your dollars,” says Hannah Oliver Depp, owner of Loyalty Bookstores.

Demand for books about race and social justice has skyrocketed after a surge in activity from the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of Minneapolis man George Floyd.

“Even if they only read a quarter of the books that they’re buying, they’re buying
incredible books. They’re buying Audre Lorde; they’re buying James Baldwin … they’re buying Jason Reynolds,” says Depp.

The fate of Loyalty Bookstores was uncertain as its D.C. store and its new Silver Spring location, which only opened in February, closed due to COVID-19. For the first few months in quarantine, orders were processed and shipped directly from Depp’s house in Brightwood. But after a “massive influx” of online orders for antiracist literature, business has taken a turn for the better.

By the end of May, Depp, 33, was working up to 20 hours a day. Proceeds from Loyalty’s boost in orders have gone toward causes such as Black Lives Matter DC, bail bonds and writing classes for community members.

Now that retail is opening back up, online orders are being prepared in Silver Spring, where Depp says the set-up is like a warehouse, and contactless pickup is available at both locations. Depp notes how the inability to have in-person book shopping is especially disappointing.

“Everybody misses just the pure pleasure of browsing a store and talking to people who are knowledgeable about books, face-to-face,” she says. “Books and bookstores are for everyone”

Tired of seeing a lack of Asian representation in kid lit, this Bethesda author began writing her own children’s books.

Depp, who used to visit an aunt in Silver Spring when she was growing up, was excited to serve its “incredibly and truly diverse” community. Losing the space so soon after opening was “heartbreaking” for her.

“I’m still processing it because we’re still not doing what we designed ourselves to
do,” says Depp, “which is to be a physical, communal space in a world where those
are dwindling. It was a dream deferred even further.”

Depp hopes to allow in-store appointment shopping by the fall but is holding off on a full re-opening at the moment for the safety of her staff members. In-person events, such as drag queen story times and meet-and-greets with authors, are also on hold, but Loyalty Bookstores will continue to offer a bevy of online events, including recurring book discussions with author Bethanne Patrick and an antiracist book club.

And although the push for social justice seems as strong as it has in a long time, Depp doesn’t expect the desire for more antiracism literature to continue at the same volume.

“America did not actually wake up to the true horrors of its racist legacy and the way that that is 100 percent present and accurate in our decisions today,” she says. “I do think that a larger chunk of people woke up to it than had woken up to it before. And that’s the way we move things, chunk by chunk.”

A version of this story appeared in the August-September 2020 issue of Montgomery Magazine.


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