By D. Jean Collins
With stores in Oakland and San Francisco, Marcus Books is the oldest Black book shop in the country. Blanche Richardson operates the Oakland store. She took time between a steady stream of customers to talk about working in this famous family business.
DJC: When did you know you were going to take over ownership?
BR: I didn’t think of it like that. It was a family business and we all knew we would be working there when we came of age. At first the business was a printing and publishing company – Success Printing Co., located in the historic Fillmore District in San Francisco.
All of the kids worked there from very young ages. The girls – my sister Karen and I – did everything from sweeping to making tuna sandwiches to setting type. We also did a lot of the menial work – collating and stapling, as well as editorial work for clients who wanted help with their projects. My two brothers, Billy and “Mac,” (Julian, Jr.) learned to operate the printing presses.
My parents, Drs. Raye and Julian Richardson who had met while teenagers attending Tuskegee Institute, were avid readers. They would scour the country for Black books, then eventually started ordering extra books that were sold out of the print shop.
DJC: Did either of your stores offer classes?
BR: For about ten years, we ran the Malcolm X School when the San Francisco store was located on McAllister and Van Ness in San Francisco. We had pre-school, elementary, and middle schools.
DJC: What other events are offered?
BR: We do book signings, lectures and panel discussions. We’ve hosted local, emerging, and world famous Black authors, artists, scholars, activists, historians, politicians, musicians and others in the fields of arts and letters.
DJC: What kind of support do you get from the community?
BR: There is strong and loyal support. Our family has run the Marcus Bookstores for four generations now. We have people that started coming in at pre-school age, now they are bringing in their children and grandchildren.
DJC: What are your tips on survival as a business?
BR: Our primary strength is that this is a family business. My parents were inspired to offer their services and lives to providing this positive and essential resource to the community. The communities, for our Oakland and San Francisco stores, appreciate us and we appreciate them.
DJC: What is the legacy you want to leave personally? What will be the legacy of Marcus Books?
BR: My legacy will be that I have continued my parents’ original vision. Each of my siblings has done this.
The legacy of Marcus Books will be the successful culmination of the mission and vision of my parents – to provide a resource for self-knowledge in the Black community. They felt that, without self-knowledge, it was impossible to be successful in life. You cannot succeed if you don’t know your own worth, your own beauty, and especially your true history.
Marcus Books is located in Oakland at 3900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way and in San Francisco at 1712 Fillmore St. For an events calendar, store hours and other information, go to marcusbooks.com or marcusbooksevents.com
The complete interview was originally posted at www.Oaklandlocal.com online newspaper.