When inflation from the pandemic hit and threatened one North Carolina woman’s brick-and-mortar store, she didn’t panic. Instead, she adapted and gave her business a much-needed makeover.
According to WFAE 90.7, Sonyah Spencer once owned The Urban Reader Bookstore until it became a financial burden; she paid $6,000 monthly to rent the space.
“I was going red every month,” she said. “It got to the point where the other business I do during the week, I was supplementing to keep the bookstore open.”
This harsh reality pushed the entrepreneur not to renew her 18-month lease agreement after it ended in February.
“Business owners need to adjust according to the economic times,” the Charlotte resident said. “For me, it wasn’t financially right for the amount of rent I was paying at the brick-and-mortar location.”
Since Spencer still wanted to provide books for her community, she knew she had to pivot her business model to work for her. When coming up with new affordable concepts, a fun idea popped into her mind: a bookstore on wheels.
“I get it. If I lived in Pineville, where I used to live, would I drive all the way to the university to go to a bookstore? No, I wouldn’t,” she said. “So, I said, you know what, ‘let me go to the people, so the people don’t have to go to me.’”
Her new business is called Bookmobile, and it carries a multitude of books that cater to different interests while providing an inclusive environment as library positions are being removed from more schools these days.
“I pray for the librarians, the school districts, and the community libraries because their road to getting a book on the shelf is harder for them than it is for me,” she said.
After seeing how many more people she can now reach, Spencer is glad she decided to relaunch her bookstore as a mobile business. Her monthly expenses include $60 for gas and nearly $100 for parking, so it’s a win-win, especially compared to the $6,000 she once paid in rent.
Local community member Robert, who declined to share his last name due to safety concerns about speaking out against the removal of published work in certain areas, said he appreciates Black-owned bookstores like Spencer’s.
“We live in the United States of America, and freedom of speech is important,” Robert said. “The opportunity to choose, to read and to explore whatever we want is a good thing, so it’s great to see this out here.”
Customer Ashley Boyles said she feels as if she stepped into a time machine after shopping at Bookmobile.
“I remember whenever I was a kid, just being so excited seeing the bookmobile in my neighborhood,” Boyles said. “We were pretty far from the public libraries, so just seeing it and being able to go and get books as a kid, so seeing this one parked here today was so nostalgic.”