By the Book

For 365 days a year this Liberty City bookstore celebrates black life

By Joyce C. Murray

At times when others might be curled up at home with, say, a good book, you might find William or Stephana Clark answering the phone or tending to customer requests at their Liberty City store. They might not seem like typical bookstore owners. In fact it's not even their day job. William, age 47, and Stephana, age 43, both work for the county -- he as a Miami-Dade firefighter and she as a detective in the school system. But their love of books and community has kept them busy in the "off" hours. They have run Afro-In Books and Things since purchasing it in 1993 from another married couple, Earl and Eursula Wells.

William Clark, like any good retailer of books, knows their story. Earl Wells was a prominent educator in Miami and served as assistant superintendent of schools. Eursula Wells was a principal at Westview Middle School. They opened Afro-In Books and Things in 1977, when an Afro-centric bookstore was a rare occurrence. When the couple resolved to sell the store in 1993, the Clarks decided they wanted the tradition to continue. William Clark first visited Afro-In about twenty years ago. He married Stephana, also a native Miamian, fifteen years ago. He says at that time, the store was a popular spot for brainstorming sessions about how to help the black community.

The Wellses' vision, says Clark, was to elevate reading of history and heritage in the black community. "They should be given all of the props," he adds. A home for the literary arts, the shop also shows off art itself, boasting a mural commissioned by the Wellses and created by Oscar Thomas, a local black painter who died in 1997 and whose works are seen all over Miami-Dade County. Although the store's motto is "Where the black experience is celebrated 365 days a year," William Clark admits right now is their busiest time, from the holidays to the end of Black History Month in February.

He says the book business is not for everyone: "A lot of people have tried and failed." Clark notes that he and his wife have "sustained the peaks and valleys" of the book industry this long because this is not their sole income, and because of their love for the books and the community. "It's not just about selling. It's more a labor of love. It's not going to sustain you financially," he says. He explains that with books a dealer earns only about 40 percent per book, compared with other industries, like clothing for example, where the markup percentage can be as high as 200 percent, thereby making it easier to cover costs.

So what's William Clark reading now? "I'm pretty much a history buff. My wife reads around the table," from romance to biography.

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Joyce C. Murray