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Akron's Elizabeth's Celebrates First Year of Highlighting Diverse Voices in Writing

Elizabeth's bookstore
Mark Arehart
Elizabeth's bookstore in the Middlebury neighborhood has expanded from an online store, to a pop-up in a coffee shop, to a bookstore and writing center over the past year.

Akron independent bookstore Elizabeth’s is celebrating its first anniversary.

The store and writing center, which started online and eventually opened up a space in Akron’s Middlebury neighborhood, highlights BIPOC and LGBTQ+ voices in literature.

Founder, writer and activist Rachel Cargle said opening Elizabeth’s has been a dream come true.

“We're trying to be really creative and innovative in how we're able to highlight and celebrate the people that we're serving and the values that we hold,” Cargle said.

In the last year Elizabeth’s went from online store, to coffee shop pop up, to a bookstore and writing center for authors who have historically struggled to find places on store shelves.

“We've all come together with this vision of showing up, you know, for the black community, for the queer community, for women, and how we're doing it boldly,” Cargle said.

In the last year, many Black-owned businesses like hers have boomed.

She credits much of that growth with the heightened conversation around antiracism and critical race theory in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

“There’s a lot of the mental whirlwind that goes into it having grown out of one of the hardest and most traumatic years that we’ve had as a Black community in a long time,” Cargle said.

“I remind people often that the successes that a lot of black businesses are seeing on the heels of Black death is something that a lot of Black entrepreneurs have to sit with and that we're really grappling with. That we had such a ‘good year of growth’ and of building teams and of bringing in revenue to do the work that we want to do.”

That work includes using the bookstore's revenue to help build a mental health care fund.

A percentage of all sales from Elizabeth’s goes to Cargle’s Loveland Foundation, which provides free mental health services to Black women, girls and gender nonconforming people.

“This is an anniversary of kind of the fullness of the way Loveland is showing up in the world. And it's just so special,” Cargle said.

Celebrating the first year of Elizabeth’s

Elizabeth’s, which is located inside Compass coffee at The Well CDC, is partnering with the Akron Art Museum with a series of celebratory programs for children and adults both at the museum and at the bookstore, including a special reading by Cargle’s mother.

“Story time with my mother, who is just deeply, deeply excited. Early childhood is a space she's worked in and relished in for all of my life. So, she's been very excited getting her story time together with her puppets and her felt board,” Cargle said.

Carlge is also holding a conversation with Ohio-native and New York Times bestselling author Hanif Abdurraqib about the meaning of "home."

What’s next?

Elizabeth’s Writing Centre will continue to grow the space for writers with workshops every month.

“We’ve had everything from memoir writing to particularly serve older communities in the ways that they want to remember their lives and make sure that it's written down and celebrated, to working with workshops around graphic novels, to erotica and finding ways to bring our readers and our writers together to remember that if you write, you are a writer. And we want to bring you in to do just that,” Cargle said.

Though it’s not the biggest retail space, she said she’s committed to keeping Elizabeth’s in Akron’s Middlebury neighborhood.

Though she’s not ruling out the potential for opening up a second space somewhere in the future.

“Moving through Akron throughout my childhood, my teenage years, and now coming back as an adult and being part of the community in such a beautiful way with an established bookstore has been really, really special and something I don't take for granted at all,” she said.