There are many reasons to celebrate the first decade of Karibu Books. But even after 10 years in business, co-owner Simba Sana is still reluctant to proclaim the store's growth from street pushcarts to five-shop chain a success.
Having evolved from three people selling books by and about people of African descent on D.C. streets and local college campuses to 40 employees of one of the top African American bookstore chains in the country doesn't mean too much to Sana, either. That's because he and his partner, Yao Ahoto, have loans to pay off and say being at the top of the black-owned bookstore industry isn't such an honor because there's little competition.
"Financially, we're not there yet. But I think culturally and community-wise, we're a success," Sana said.
It was their community success and their desire to thank devoted customers that inspired store owners and employees to celebrate their 10th anniversary -- the first birthday they've ever recognized -- with book signings, poetry readings, live music and raffles throughout March.
The majority of events are occurring at the chain's flagship store at Prince George's Plaza, and others will take place at its locations in Iverson Mall, Forest Village Park Mall and Bowie Towne Center. Its Pentagon City mall location is a mini-store and doesn't regularly hold events.
"Basically, I wanted to come up with special events because our surviving is all about the customers. It's a way to give back to customers," said Lee McDonald, the store's first marketing director, a position that was added last year to bolster its author events.
Over the course of 10 years, Sana says, the owners focused less on marketing and more on the store's infrastructure in order to build a sound business before exerting effort on publicity. They've concentrated on stocking a wide selection of books in categories such as African studies, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, children's and history. Soon to arrive: current events.
Even without much marketing, Karibu has established close relationships with locally and nationally known blackauthors who make the store a regular stop on their book tours. One such author is Mitchellville resident Marita Golden, who will sign and discuss "Gumbo: An Anthology of African American Writing," which she co-edited with E. Lynn Harris, on Saturday.
"I have a special relationship with Karibu," said Golden, who knew Ahoto when Karibu was a street vendor.
"Knowing them, I'm not surprised they made it to 10 years. They're a wonderful success story and role models for people who want to support literature, which is undersupported, undervalued and underrated," Golden said.
Other authors stopping through in March include Walter Moseley and Bell Hooks, who kicked off the anniversary events last weekend, along with Victoria Christopher Murray, Anita Doreen Diggs, Joy Jones, Omar Tyree, Janice Ferebee, Stanice Anderson, S. James Guitard, Tony Browder, Raymond Winbush and Eloise Greenfield.
While the writers recognize what the store has done for the black community, store owners steadfastly attribute community support for its growth.
"Reaching 10 years is proof that if you give black people a quality product and quality service, they will support you," Sana said. "To me, it's a very humbling feeling. We're able to make a living and provide a service, and for us it's a compliment to the community."
Karibu's free anniversary events are listed online at www.karibubooks.com. Below are some of the upcoming events:
At the PRINCE GEORGE'S PLAZA store, 3500 East West Hwy., Hyattsville, 301-559-1140:
D.J. Renegade -- 6-8 p.m. Friday. Poetry, live music and a CD release party.
Marita Golden -- 4 p.m. Saturday. Reading and signing of "Gumbo: An Anthology of African American Writing."
Anniversary Cake Cutting Ceremony -- 6 p.m. March 17. With W.E.S. Group Jazz Collective.
Eloise Greenfield -- 2 p.m. March 22. Signing of children's book "Honey I Love & Other Poems."
Tony Browder -- 4:30 p.m. March 29. Discussion and signing of "From the Browder Files."
At FOREST VILLAGE PARK MALL, 3289 B Donnell Dr., Forestville, 301-736-6170:
Janice Ferebee -- 5 p.m. March 15. Discussion and signing of "Got It Goin' on II."
Omar Tyree -- 4 p.m. March 29. Reading and signing copies of his new series, "The Urban Griot."
At BOWIE TOWNE CENTER, 15624 Emerald Way, Bowie, 301-352-4110:
Sharon Bell Mathis -- 2 p.m. Saturday. Reading and signing of children's book, "Ray Charles."
Kindred Book Club -- 4 p.m. Sunday. Open forum discussion of Connie Briscoe's "P.G. County."
At IVERSON MALL, 3817 Branch Ave., Hillcrest Heights, 301-899-3730:
Yasmin Shiraz -- 6 p.m. Friday. Discussion and signing of "The Blueprint for My Girls."
S. James Guitard -- 1 p.m. March 22. Discussion and signing of "Mocha Love."