Five years ago, Pamela and Jeffrey Blair embarked on a mission to ensure all children of color would be able to see themselves in the books they read.
Since then, the couple moved their EyeSeeMe African American Children's Bookstore in University City to a bigger location, held book fairs at local schools and had plans to open a cafe in their store.
But like many small businesses, their plans came to a screeching halt as the coronavirus spread throughout the region. A countywide stay-at-home order led them to close their doors to the public, lay off workers and cancel book signings and author visits. School closures brought an additional hit, with dozens of canceled book orders, as well as field trips and book fairs.
Now the Blairs are behind on their rent and worry they might not be able to bounce back after the pandemic.
“I think it’s also important to let the community know what’s going on, because there is this resource in the community that is in a perilous position,” Jeffrey said. “And that if we don’t have the community support ongoing even through these hard times, [the bookstore] could go away, and that is a reality that is hard for us to face.”
The couple is relying heavily on their savings and applying for federal and local grants and loans to help get by. As a last resort, they’ve also started a GoFundMe to raise $25,000 to help make ends meet and keep the mission alive.
Pamela said their absence can already be felt by educators, even though schools are closed.
“Teachers that have been calling or emailing saying, ‘This cannot happen,’” Pamela said. “‘Because without you guys, I wouldn’t know what books to put in my classrooms. I wouldn’t know what books to read to my children in classrooms.’ And so, that’s our struggle, is really trying to be there for our teachers and our parents.”
So far, Blair’s GoFundMe has garnered a lot of support. As of Friday, they raised more than $7,000, and online book sales are growing. The store also is offering curbside delivery.
“The community has really reached out,” Pamela said. “We get emails and texts saying, ‘We want to see you guys stay. We’re so sorry. And how can I help?’ So we’ve had several of our partners and our community that have reached out. But we still have a long way to go in reaching that goal.”
The Blairs say they are focusing their energy on the positive in hopes of getting back to normal.
“When this is over, we can go back to serving our community, our children, our schools and just being that beacon in the St. Louis community,” she said. “We’re excited about the GoFundMe page and hopeful that we will meet our goals.”
Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011