Business Unusual: Brave and Kind Bookshop Promotes Community and Inclusivity

“When I opened the shop, my intention was to choose books that inspire kids and their families to be brave and kind, and that plays itself out in many ways.”

Bunnie Hilliard opened Brave and Kind Bookshop in Decatur, Georgia, in 2018 to celebrate and elevate children’s books featuring main characters of color. Residents of her predominantly white neighborhood of Oakhurst, located near Agnes Scott College, embraced the bookshop and its regular author visits, story times and tween book club.

When Hilliard designed her shop, she intentionally positioned all of her 300 plus books so the covers — which featured characters of all colors and abilities — were visible to customers. Kids of all races coming into the shop saw characters who looked like them and their peers spread throughout the store. Voices of color are not a genre that belong in a special section of a bookshop, adds Hilliard. They should be infused throughout.

When Hilliard designed her shop, she intentionally positioned all of her 300 plus books so the covers — which featured characters of all colors and abilities — were visible to customers.

“My goal was to create community and to have events in person,” says Hilliard. She chose her location so customers could walk and bike to her shop.

Then, the coronavirus hit. Hilliard shut down her store and made a fast pivot to online. “I had to move quickly,” she says, changing her entire business model.

Previously, Hilliard used her website exclusively for class and event sign-ups and to sell a handful of gift items. After closing shop, she began to load her website with her full inventory, spending days photographing each book title against the backdrop of her shop’s multi-colored rug and writing out product descriptions.

“I take all my photos on our main rug because I want people to feel like they came into the bookstore,” Hilliard says.

Now, she’s shipping books to new customers across the country. “We turned ourselves into an online bookstore,” says Hilliard. “That was never my intention, but it’s become a real arm of what we offer. It’s how we’re surviving.”

Brave and Kind 2

Brand building

So far, Hilliard has been able to weather the steep drop in business that’s caused many Black-owned businesses across the country to shutter.

Data have shown that the number of working Black  business owners in the U.S. fell by more than 40% — much steeper than for other racial groups — as COVID-19 shut down local economies. The U.S. had lost almost 450,000 active Black business owners as of April.

Hilliard is managing, in part, because of her streamlined operations. It’s Hilliard at the helm, with help from just one other woman a few days a week. Hilliard’s husband and a few friends also pitch in, so there’s no extensive staff to pay. Hilliard also continues to build her brand as an independent, neighborhood kids’ and family bookshop that celebrates diversity.

In 2018, Hilliard was a stay-at-home mom who loved finding beautiful, well-written books to read with her children.

“At the time, I was looking to start the next chapter of my life,” she says. “I wanted to do something that I felt like would make an impact on my community. I asked myself, what would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?”

“At the time, I was looking to start the next chapter of my life,” she says. “I wanted to do something that I felt like would make an impact on my community. I asked myself, what would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?”

She started a book club for her 4-year old daughter as a way to get her excited about learning to read and to link books and friends. Then, she started an online book subscription box to test the waters.

“But in the back of my mind, I knew I would love to have a brick and mortar bookshop for kids,” Hilliard says. So she launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and raised just shy of half of her $25,000 goal.

“But I said, I’m going to keep this ball rolling, and if it’s meant to be, it will be. I’d rather have tried and failed than not tried at all.” Soon after, Hilliard opened Brave and Kind Bookshop.

Brave and Kind Bookshop

Sticking to porch pick-ups

Now, in addition to shipping books, Hilliard is offering local customers a porch pick-up option, an idea she got from a Brooklyn bookstore owner peer who regularly holds book stoop sales. At Brave and Kind Bookshop, customers place orders online, get notification their order is ready, and then call the shop when they’re outside. Hilliard places the order out front and waves to customers from the window. She’s also moved author chats online.

In recent weeks, Decatur has seen its share of protests and marches following the death of George Floyd, but so far protests have been peaceful, says Hilliard. She hasn’t been concerned that the vandalism and looting that’s occurred across Georgia and the U.S. will strike her shop. She has seen an uptick in purchases of books on race, and she’s hopeful that the books bought at her store will continue to spark important conversations between parents and their children.

“When I opened the shop, my intention was to choose books that inspire kids and their families to be brave and kind, and that plays itself out in many ways,” she says.

“When I opened the shop, my intention was to choose books that inspire kids and their families to be brave and kind, and that plays itself out in many ways,” she says.

With shelter-in-place orders now lifted in Georgia, Hilliard is allowed to open her store, but she’s waiting.

“I’m not going to be an early adopter,” says Hilliard, who, along with her children, has asthma. Instead, she prefers to take a cautious route, especially as many southern states have started to see an uptick in coronavirus cases after reopening.

“I want to feel more confident that I won’t catch coronavirus, and that I won’t give it to anyone else,” she says.

When she does decide to reopen her brick and mortar, Hilliard will start off slow, first offering appointments for in-store shopping.

“I have a small shop,” she says, “and I can’t have more than 4 people inside without them bumping into each other.”

Hilliard wants to feel she’s in control of sanitizing so she can keep herself — and her customers — safe.

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