Collingswood unites to keep Ida’s Bookshop’s open amidst rent crisis

6 mins read
Ida's Bookshop owner, Jeanine A. Cook, sits in her store located in Collingswood (Courtesy: Ida's Bookshop)

Ida’s Bookshop, a beacon of knowledge and community in Collingswood, NJ, epitomizes more than just a bookstore. Established in 2021, this Black-owned business has become a sanctuary for book enthusiasts and community members. However, a looming existential threat shadowed this vibrant cultural hub.

On January 3, Ida’s took to Instagram, announcing the risk of losing its storefront due to an impending rent hike.

The Instagram post read, “Just so folks aren’t alarmed if we potentially have to move [or] close, our landlord is going up on rent to a rate that we cannot afford. We sell our books, if you can imagine, the margins aren’t great. Ironically, our lease ends in February, Black History Month, which could mean sadly one of a handful of Black-owned businesses would be closing during.”


In response to this crisis, Jeanine Cook, the owner of Ida’s Bookshop, launched a GoFundMe page and organized a “Raise The Rent” party to secure $23,000 to cover the year’s rent. This event, paying tribute to the
rent parties of the Harlem Renaissance, fittingly coincided with Martin Luther King Day. 


Within a week, the community came together and surpassed the fundraising goal.


Patrons, supporters, and business associates filled the store at this event. Despite recently undergoing surgery and being on bed rest, Cook was an active participant stationed on a bed in the back room. Across from her sat Isis Williams, board president of the Haddon Township Equity Initiative. The walls adorned with large white papers posed questions like ‘What can we commit to doing?’ and ‘How do we sustain the institution?’ with community members offering answers and insights on Post-Its notes.


Cook, confined yet resilient, said, “For context – I had surgery a few days ago and they put me on bed rest. But we got to, we gotta do this thing ’cause my lease is up February 1st. I said to myself, ‘I got a bed that was already here that is like a part of the set of the bookshop.’ I’m gonna just sit on that bed. I could not not be here.” Her presence underscored her unwavering commitment.


Despite her limited mobility, Cook actively engaged with attendees, expressing her gratitude. 


“We’re asking people to give one of your most valuable resources: your thoughts, ideas, connections, and commitment. And people are doing that,” she explained.


Cook also addressed the increasing rent issue, likening it to a modern form of sharecropping. 


“Every year my landlord has decided he wants to increase the rent, even though I’ve renovated this space and that he doesn’t have to maintain it. And in many ways, I call that a modern version of sharecropping, which he has the right to do,” Cook stated. She emphasized her desire not to direct rage toward the landlord but to focus on finding solutions and creating a permanent space in the community.


The Haddon Township Equity Initiative has been a long-standing ally of Ida’s Bookshop. Williams, the board president, remarked, “We are working collaboratively to see how we can support Jeanine as we have in the past. We try to work together to bring the communities into these conversations and hold them accountable for sustaining businesses in the area.”


This struggle is not unique to Ida’s Bookshop. According to wordsrated.com, as of 2023,
there are approximately 149 Black-owned bookstores in the U.S., representing a mere 6% of the 2,500 independent bookstores nationwide. Operating these businesses comes with its set of challenges.


Larry Miles, owner of Camden’s LaUnique African American Books and Cultural Center, shared his insights. 


“Selling urban books was a very good business because it was something that everybody wanted in the street books. But then it came to a point when Amazon and other online publishers started selling books at lower prices. This hurt retailers, especially African American retailers,” Miles said.


In addition to the rent struggles, securing a loan for a new building has been a hurdle for Ida’s. 


“I’ve been personally going through the commercial lending process to buy a building, and I still struggle to get a loan not just to open my business, which would have been impossible, but to purchase a property to house my business. I face rejections — a lot,” Cook said. 


Looking to the future, Ida’s Bookshop plans to host a “Raise the Roof Party” on February 3rd, focusing on synthesizing ideas from the previous event to foster growth.


“Getting the community involved is the way to sustain small businesses. We’re not gonna be able to compete with the behemoths of corporations,” Cook said, emphasizing the importance of community support in sustaining local businesses.