While putting the finishing touches on her soon-to-be opened establishment, The Noir Bookshop, Ymani Wince picked up a weathered paperback from the shelf. It is her personal copy of Terry McMillan’s breakthrough novel “Mama.” “My stepmother gave me this book when I was 14 years old,” Wince said. “And this was her copy when she was at Jackson State University.”
“Mama” created a shift for Wince and her relationship with books and will be among those available at the soft opening of the bookstore – located at 2317 Cherokee. It was her first time reading a novel with authentic Black dialogue. She also fell in love with the layers of the story. “If anyone comes in and asks me to recommend a book, it will be this one.”
The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 30. The store will officially open at a to-be-announced date in June, but this weekend she is encouraging the community to come by for a sample of her plans to influence the region by promoting Black culture through books – and fellowship.
The origins of The Noir Bookshop date back to 2018 with Wince’s desire to organize a community book drive. In 2020, the pandemic hit. During the lockdown she noticed on Instagram there was this store called Black Market Vintage in New York. The owners are a couple that traveled around the world to collect Black artifacts.
“I was really intrigued by the books they were able to find,” Wince said. “They had copies of Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison – an original James Baldwin. They had so much vintage literature that I was just obsessed.” Every time she would attempt to buy a book from them, the item would already be sold. She discovered Brittany Bond, a woman who repurposed an old ice cream cart into a portable bookstore she calls Common Books. Bond sells copies of books of women authors at various locations throughout New York City. Wince became one of Bond’s online customers.
“I saw that she had old copies of Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and I was really excited, so I started buying books from her just to keep them on the shelf for myself,” Wince said. “Whenever I would get a new book, I would take a picture and post it online.”
The response was overwhelming. Wince kept getting messages inquiring about the books. It made her think that she could do something similar in St. Louis, but with Black authors. The death of designer Virgil Abloh just after Thanksgiving in 2021 lit a fire under her. “I got into a rabbit hole of Black owned bookstores around the country,” said Wince. “I saw so many Black women – my age – who were opening stores and becoming pillars of their community.”
By Christmas, Wince, 28, announced that she was opening a store. She held a pop-up event in February to introduce her concept to the community. Two weeks after Easter, she will present The Noir Bookstore in its new home after signing a lease on her space last month.
Wince shifted gears after working as a journalist, most recently with The Riverfront Times.
“I love to write, and I think that being a storyteller and a journalist will always be part of my life,” Wince said. “But I knew I was done when I got all the stories I wanted to tell out of my head. It took like a year or two, but I felt like I had done all that I wanted to do. I’ve found my next chapter, pun intended.”
A warm, fuzzy family feeling
In addition to selling books, Wince plans to host community events, community service initiatives, lectures and more when The Noir Bookshop becomes fully operational. She credits her family with serving as an inspiration for the experience she seeks to create with The Noir Bookshop.
“My grandmother taught me how to read when I was young. We share a love of books and during the thick of the pandemic – when it was safe to visit her – I would bring her a stack of books and we would trade,” Wince said. “Every time I go to my grandmother’s house, I can’t remember a time where she didn’t have something baked and ready, whether it was a few pieces of a pound cake or a peach cobbler.”
She hopes to recreate that energy for patrons and visitors of The Noir Bookshop.
“I want them to come in and have a snack and just know that that when they walk in my space that they belong there and that they can feel warm and loved, like my grandparents made me feel,” Wince said. “I want to see people’s reaction when they come through the door, because that will let me know if I hit the mark with what type of mood I was trying to set in here.”
A crowdfunding campaign is underway to ensure that The Noir Bookshop is as Wince prepares for the store to open full-time this summer.
“It’s not about me turning a profit,” Wince said. “Of course, the store needs to make a profit, but books are meant to be shared.”
She wants The Noir Bookshop to serve the region through education, inspiration, and community – which are the three pillars that the store is built on.
“I want people to see themselves when they come,” Wince said. “And to know that a space like this is needed – and it exists.”