We are delighted to celebrate National Black Business Month by highlighting Black entrepreneurs across the Commonwealth. Today we are telling the story of Books and Crannies in Martinsville.
Meet DeShanta Hairston, the owner of Books and Crannies, a Black-woman owned independent bookstore, located in Martinsville, Virginia. With the closing of all major book retailers in this area, Books and Crannies filled a regional market need when it opened on September 20, 2016. Books and Crannies is a general interest/literary bookstore featuring fiction and non-fiction accompanied by a selection of children’s books and a wide range of titles. Their website offers a seamless online shopping experience with the ability to ship nationally.
DeShanta said, “I opened my bookstore in 2016 after winning a Community Business Launch grant of $12,715 through the local Chamber of Commerce’s StartUp Martinsville program. The program provided the funding for the retail space and overhead costs for the first two years, and I purchased the inventory myself. This allowed me to put any money made for the first two years back into the business without having to worry about high expenses. In June 2020, I had a post go viral on Twitter where I had expressed my hesitancy to publicly call my business a “Black-owned business” in fear of losing potential business in my local area. This was during the time of civil unrest after the George Floyd video was released. As a result, I gained a large online following and amassed a great number of customers on my website from across the United States”.
Moving out of the pandemic, DeShanta had to change her sales strategy because online sales dropped significantly. She had some ideas on how to pivot, but she needed to increase her inventory, build her networks and get the funding to do both.
In November of 2021 Martinsville’s Uptown Partnership, won a $90,000 Community Business Launch Grant. In partnership with The Advancement Foundation, Uptown Partnership hosted a 12-week business workshop series, followed by a business plan pitch competition, focused on Uptown Martinsville. Martinsville is affiliated with Virginia Main Street as an Exploring Main Street organization. Like thousands of communities across the country, Martinsville has adopted the Main Street Approach (TM) that provides a flexible framework to put the traditional assets of downtown, such as unique architecture and locally-owned businesses, to work as a catalyst for economic growth and community pride.
What is Community Business Launch? Since 2015, 33 communities have participated in the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) Community Business Launch (CBL) program and launched new or expanded businesses in walkable downtowns and neighborhoods throughout the state. As a systems approach to asset-based, small-business economic development, the CBL program helps communities identify their unique assets and fill vacant storefronts with businesses that best attract and serve its residents. CBL is a perfect example of how commitment to place and building stronger communities through a people-centered approach can beautifully come together.
“We, at Uptown Partnership, were very grateful to be able to bring the Gauntlet program to Uptown Martinsville, through DHCD’s Community Business Launch grant program.
DeShanta Hairston was one of the program participants and, as she always does, she brought her A Game. DeShanta and her business, Books & Crannies, have been a foundational business in the Uptown business district. The strength and resilience she showed as she did what it took to get her business through a tough two years when the pandemic was at its height have been an inspiration for many, not just here in Martinsville, but around the country.
DeShanta’s ability to market her business in creative ways – even in the tough times – is part of what makes her so special. She and Books and Crannies are an integral part of our community. DeShanta also offers guidance to other business owners and gives back to this community in so many ways.”Kathy Deacon, Executive Director of Uptown Partnership
How does it work? CBL partners with localities and Main Street organizations, like Uptown Martinsville, providing them with the capital to create and run a small business incubation training program, and fund the awards for a pitch competition. These groups typically facilitate a boot camp for aspiring entrepreneurs or existing businesses poised to grow. Participants go through the boot camp to learn the basics of running a business, such as the marketing, financial, and legal structure. Once finished, there is a pitch competition and at least three businesses are awarded funding. With this small grant and additional technical assistance and mentor services, winning entrepreneurs can move their businesses into available spaces in the community!
Capital + Support + Education = Vibrant Neighborhoods
This Spring, DeShanta became a participant in The Gauntlet. “I enrolled in the program to increase my in-store inventory so I can offer more options to customers. I have been wanting to expand what is offered at my store through sideline items that are book related.
This program has taught me the value of networking. Since I have finished the program, I have talked with so many other participants about future plans to collaborate on events and ideas. It also made me realize I am often more capable of seeing ideas through than for what I give myself credit for. It makes me really proud when people see the value in my ideas and the work I do with my bookstore.
The CBL program expedited the process of me adding more inventory and sideline items to my store. I’m not sure I would have been able to make such a large purchase of just added inventory at once had it not been for this grant. The CBL program has also connected me to numerous resources for accounting, legal, and business consulting services for free. These are all invaluable connections that I may not have made without this program” said DeShanta.
DeShanta’s hard work led to a 2nd CBL grant of $5000 in May. Check out The Gauntlet, an annual competition hosted by The Advancement Foundation (TAF) where alumni not only go through the 12-week workshop series but get access to mentors, grants, and in-kind support from a wide variety of local businesses.
“Deshanta Hairston of Books and Crannies, in Martinsville, is a talented young business owner with a passion for her community! She is a driven business owner who is supported and greatly loved by her customers. We, The Advancement Foundation, are so very proud of Books and Crannies and are always so impressed with their creative marketing and focus on community-building programs! They did exceptionally well in the Gauntlet Business Program and Competition and we wish Books and Crannies continued success!”Kelly Turner, Director of Resource Development at TAF
“This grant gave me the opportunity to do that without having to stress about funding. I would encourage everyone to apply for any CBL programs that become available. Make sure you attend all classes and do the work provided. These programs help shape your ideas into actual plans and provide resources that cover all tracks in business. Sometimes there are things in business that we don’t consider because it takes so many different hats to run a business. The CBL programs provide mentoring from experienced business owners and professionals who can help take your ideas to the next level,” explained DeShanta.
Well done DeShanta!
Photo Credit (Top): Books and Crannies
Photo Credit (Middle): TAF
Photo Credit (Bottom): Books and Crannies