When the pandemic shut down libraries and schools, Kenyetta Richard and Courtney Strickland had one focus – get books into the hands of kids.
In September 2020, they opened Belle Books in EastPoint Plaza, along 23rd Street, offering free and affordable books to children in need.
“Now they have the opportunity to come in and touch a tangible book, because we have free books. We have books that are only a dollar, we have $4 books, and then our newer books are a little more expensive, but we don’t want any child to be able to leave without a book,” said Richard.
The store has books for kids as well as adults. One thing you simply can’t miss as you walk in the door is the bright yellow shelf.
“So, we are partnering with Youth First,” Strickland explained. “It’s bring a book, leave a book.”
These bright yellow shelves are in businesses throughout the city. Through this program kids and adults come in and leave their gently loved books and take a book home.
The ladies take the responsibilities of owning a bookstore seriously. A must have for them is story time for kids.
“We had them (kids) as small as two years old. And they were excited. They may not have sat as long as everybody else, but they wanted to pick up the books, they were excited to see the pictures, ‘oh mommy this looks like daddy,’” said Richard.
Richard and Strickland are spoken word artists who are also published authors of almost thirty books of their own. Now, they are helping others accomplish their writing dreams by helping them publish their own books.
“We assist in self-publishing. We help them format, we help them edit, we help them with their cover. Then hand their baby over to them because they have total control over all their rights and royalties. We don’t keep anything. We just want to see them be great,” said Richard.
Those skills are in now in high demand.
“With local authors, authors from New York, Colorado, Dallas, we work with people everywhere,” said Strickland.
No matter how their business grows and evolves, they both understand the power of a book.