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Sisterspace & Books Re-opens

Shantella Y. Sherman | 12/1/2009, 6:46 p.m.

The sidewalk outside 3717 Georgia Avenue Northwest was awash with hundreds of well-wishers, who came out to celebrate the grand re-opening of Sisterspace & Books at their new location at Petworth.

Owner Faye Williams welcomed a standing-room only crowd, some of whom had traveled hundreds of miles to join her.

Michelle Sewell, 41, said that she was elated by the return of the bookstore after years of nurturing the writing endeavors of African American writers and women.€I m ecstatic to witness the rebirth of Sisterspace. I had moved to the West coast, but I made sure that my travels coincided with the re-opening of the bookstore. I volunteered for years with Faye and always remember her making room for new authors. I miss the U Street location, but believe the new location at Petworth might be even better,€ Sewell said.

The glorious past to which Sewell speaks is one that began in 1994 along the historic U Street corridor in Northwest, where Williams and co-owner Cassandra Burton, transformed a row-house into a creative space for African American women.

In addition to the bookstore, Sisterspace also hosted yoga classes, workshops for aspiring writers, an investment club, poetry and book readings, a single mother's support group, a spiritual circle, and a study group for women pursuing doctoral degrees.

That spiritual oasis was abruptly halted by the eviction from the storefront space on U Street in Northwest after a five-year dispute over rent increases and building conditions. Williams and Burton accused their landlord of racism and of trying to displace a minority-owned business from the rapidly gentrifying corridor.

For Kendra Redd-Miller, 48, Sisterspace became an oasis, where she could meet with other women to discuss health, romance, family and careers.

Sisterspace & Books supporter Rahsheda Smith, 28, stands outside the new store location in Northwest. Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman
€Faye and Cassandra made sure that the environment was quiet and inviting. There were days when I didn€t have a dime to pay for a book, but I knew that I could go to Sisterspace and have conversations with other sisters who would listen and share their experiences too. It wasn€t a place that focused on just getting your money,€ Redd-Miller said.

Sisterspace€s reliance on community involvement, including volunteers to man registers and stock, introduced a communal atmosphere to the store that also influenced its popularity with Black women of different backgrounds. That sense of communal creativity attracted Rahsheda Smith, 28, an educator from Brooklyn, N.Y., to volunteer her time on occasion years ago and to show up for the re-opening.

€I was looking for a space where Black women could talk about Black issues. I came down to support Faye because there are so few places where we can support each other as African Americans writers, poets, and readers. I wanted her to know how much she impacted my life and to encourage her continued success,€ Smith said.

Among those on hand to celebrate with Williams was her aunt, Shirley McGlon, a social worker from the Bronx, NY. McGlon said that she cried many nights with Williams over the loss of the original space and had to cry tears of joy with her at its reopening.

€I am really overwhelmed by the reopening. I had to have my test of faith and so did Faye. And from the start, if Faye called and said she needed a penny and it was my last, it was sent here to her. I sacrificed a lot to help and I am glad I did,€ McGlon said.

Sisterspace & Books owner Faye Williams welcomes her loyal customers back to her new location in Northwest. Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman
McGlon said that Williams returned on the loans by introducing her children, now in college, to reading.

€I will always be grateful to Faye for introducing reading and self-awareness to young Black females. Faye is my €Precious€ because she has gone through a lot of things, but Faye came out of the womb reading. I thank her for introducing books to my children, rather than ice cream and cake or popcorn. They had books for dessert,€ McGlon said.

In the midst of Williams€ festive reunion with friends and family, she was reminded of the comments she made following the eviction from the U Street location.

€Sisterspace is out, but we are not down.€

Now, she can say, €We are back and better than ever.€