For the first time in seven years, the District will have a full-time black bookstore when the Pyramid opens its doors on Friday.
"We're here to fill the void. Our community needs an alternative to Brentano's," said the new bookstore's 27-year-old owner, Hodari Ali.
The Pyramid, at 2849 Georgia Ave. NW near Howard University, will be open seven days a week with, according to Ali, "books by and about people of African descent."
The bookstore will be a division of the Liberation Information Distributing Co., a highly successful wholesale distributor of black magazines and books founded by Ali six years ago, and currently operated out of his home at 4206 Edson Place NE. It too will move into the new building on Georgia Avenue.
Pyramid will be the logical extension of a company that distributes about 10,000 copies a month of 40 black and Third World publications to such outlets as the 7-Eleven and Giant food store chains, People's Drugs stores, and military base outlets in the District, Baltimore and Richmond. Liberation also services a national network of independent bookstores and newsstands.
Although bank financing was required to purchase the building, the wholesale operation will absorb the expense of operating the bookstore. "Our contacts made over the years enabled us to land publishing-house accounts with trade references instead of cash, an instance where familiarity and good will paid off," said Ali.
Ali regards his new venture as a "progression." Book publishing and film production are other areas he plans to enter in the years to come.
Courtland Cox, executive director of the Minority Business Opportunity Commission and one of the three former owners of the old Drum and Spear bookstore at 14th and Fairmount streets NW, wishes Ali well. "Hodari will bring intensity and honesty to the operation; he'll do more than sell books." Cox said the Drum and Spear closed in 1974 because "the location was not the best; people had to come a good distance to get to us." The Drum and Spear owners have given Ali all of their old index cards and catalogues.
"They want us to continue where they left off," said Ali.
His wife Mayimuna, the company's vice president, stressed that much thought and a number of years had gone into planning this new enterprise.
"We needed a good site; residents, educators, and civic-minded people to serve on our community advisory board; and a qualified, dedicated person to be our bookstore manager," she said. "Everything is now in place."
Fabu Lieno, who quit her job as book supervisor at the Museum of African Art to take the Pyramid manager's job, said flatly: "A great many of our people have been miseducated, have not had the necessary, vital information about our race available to them. We should be able to pull on our own resources. This is the role we plan to fill."
Enthusiastic about the new operation, Lieno added: "We'll have it all, we'll be able to satisfy everyone." She pointed out that the bookstore will be well-represented in the categories of black studies, African affairs, black music, religion, nutrition and the care and rearing of the black child. A special children's section will feature materials, books and games especially pitched to youngsters. Local authors such as Eloise Greenfield will be featured in this section.
"As parents we must stimulate our children to read on a wide range of subjects while they are quite young; Pyramid plans to address this need," said Lieno.
A weekly children's story hour will also be a part of the bookstore's program to stimulate community involvement -- as will poetry readings, lectures, book parties and film festivals. These activities will take place on the third floor of the three-story Georgia Avenue building, christened the multipurpose cultural center. The bookstore will be on the second level and the the wholesale operation on the first.
Pyramid will also sell recordings of speeches by Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and poetry readings by Langston Hughes and others. In addition, Ali, a self-proclaimed "jazz freak," will buy and sell used jazz albums, "a personal innovation of mine that's dear to my heart," he said.
Pyramid will also offer discount books, the latest fiction, poetry and plays by both black American and African writers.
Lieno said that students attempting to track down an obscure title will be welcome at Pyramid. "At long last they'll have a place to come, because we're ready for them," she said