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COVID-19 Pandemic Could Be The Last Chapter For N.J. Bookstore

NOEL KING, HOST:

A bookstore in Newark, N.J., is fighting to survive.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's called Source of Knowledge. It is a neighborhood hangout that's inside a narrow building. It's tucked right between a 7-Eleven and a clothing store.

KING: It's one of two black-owned bookstores left in all of New Jersey, and it was a really important part of the community before the COVID-19 outbreak.

DEXTER GEORGE: Every African American would want to come inside. From the time you walk by the street, you look in the window and everything reflects us.

(SOUND OF PHONE RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: These are all black books, y'all. I didn't even know you all had these books.

PATRICE MCKINNEY: We have a gym upstairs for exercise, hair Salon. It's just so much more than a bookstore.

MASANI BARNWELL GEORGE: Yeah, it's a community center which people not just come here just to buy books, just to buy art, but they come just because they need to clear their heads at times.

KING: Those were the owners of Source of Knowledge. Dexter George, Masani Barnwell George and Patrice McKinney have run the shop for over 30 years. Here's Patrice.

MCKINNEY: It's so hard that, with this pandemic, it's like everything has stopped.

GREENE: Yeah. Their doors have been shut for weeks now as they're forced to confront COVID-19 and the waves of infection in their community.

MCKINNEY: Not a day passes by where there's not a friend or now a family member that I have lost or losing to this. OK, I was just with this person a month ago, and now they're gone.

BARNWELL GEORGE: It's really - it's hitting us hard. We started a GoFundMe page because we're flatlined, completely flatlined.

KING: But they're still hanging on. Dexter George says they're surviving on donations right now plus a few online orders that have come through.

GEORGE: This is a lifestyle that we live, and it's a very hard road sometimes.

GREENE: They did apply for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, a $10,000 federal fund for businesses hit by the coronavirus. But last week, they found out that the program had run out of money.

MCKINNEY: I have 10 immediate friends right in a two-block radius, all minority-owned business, not one person got a dollar. So how are we supposed to survive?

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Reading) So let me jump down and...

KING: There's this video on their Instagram page from a couple months back. Inside the bookstore, there's a dad in a suit. And he's hunched over, and he's reading a picture book to his daughter.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Reading) Rabbit climbed onto her roof. She's smooth and pet it..

GREENE: Yeah, moments like this are what these three desperately hold onto.

BARNWELL GEORGE: We're not giving up because we're fighters. We're going come back stronger because we deserve it. Our people deserve it. Our families deserve it. Our community deserves it.

KING: That was Masani Barnwell George, Patrice McKinney and Dexter George. They own Source of Knowledge in Newark, and they are trying to make it through this pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF RYAN TEAGUE'S "SITE AND SITUATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.