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Eso Won Books Writes Its Closing Chapter

Eso Won Books, part of the Los Angeles book scene for more than 33 years and one of the country’s most prominent Black bookstores, will close by the end of 2022, co-owner James Fugate confirmed.

Independent, Black-owned bookstore Eso Won Books, part of the Los Angeles book scene for more than 33 years, will close by the end of 2022, co-owner James Fugate told PW. Fugate said the same on Tavis Smiley’s June 7 KBLA podcast, after sharing a summer reading list of African American and BIPOC authors. “It’s coming to an end at the end of this year,” he told Smiley, who responded, “Oh, James, say it ain’t so, man!”

Named PW’s Bookstore of the Year in 2021, “Eso Won’s place in the pantheon of American bookstores is difficult to overstate,” wrote PW reporters Alex Green, Eugene Holley Jr., and Claire Kirch. Authors, including Ibram X. Kendi, Spike Lee, Nalo Hopkinson, and Charles Wright have dropped by for readings and signings; Jacqueline Woodson and Rachel M. Harper gave the store a shoutout last February on Oprah Daily. In 1995, a not-yet-famous Barack Obama presented Dreams From My Father to an Eso Won audience of five people, PW reporter Eugene Holley Jr. wrote. Obama returned 10 years later to greet an audience of 900, in an event co-sponsored by Eso Won and the Urban Issues Breakfast Forum.

Fugate co-owns Eso Won with Tom Hamilton, and “fully our plan is to say that we are done at the end of this year,” Fugate said. “I’m 67 and Tom is 68. I’ve been in the book business since 1980, when Reagan was elected president. Both of us are sort of tired of going in to work every day, even if it’s only four hours” in person, and “neither of us have had a vacation in over two years.”

Although Fugate and Hamilton get occasional help from friends, they are the sole staffers of the 1,800-square-foot store and online site. They lease space in a property on Degnan Boulevard in L.A.’s Leimert Park, and when the building’s owner offered all tenants a new four-year lease last year, they declined. “We knew our plan was to close,” said Fugate, “We can end the lease in December.”

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