Indie bookshop dedicated to Harriet Tubman sparks conversation on the sidewalk

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- In Fishtown, there's a brand new indie bookshop dedicated to Harriet Tubman and dedicated to raising the voices of women authors, artists and activists.

The woman behind it doesn't want people to just read the pages, but wants to sit and talk about them, even amid the pandemic.

"Harriett's Bookshop is named for the historic heroine, Harriet Tubman," said Jeannine A. Cook, owner of Harriett's Bookshop. "We do this in honor of all of the work that she did for freedom."

Cook keeps Tubman's flame lit in each page of each book she stocks.

"Our mission here is to celebrate women authors, women artists, women activists, and that is what you see us doing," she said.

Cook opened her bookshop on East Girard Avenue on February 1, six short weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic would shut the doors.

"I wanted to make sure that we weren't knocked over and knocked out of the game," said Cook.

So Cook physically moved the conversation to the sidewalk.

"We take everything out from inside, we build the bookshop outside," said Cook. "We have tables and bookshelves and racks and art and it's really beautiful."

Cook says the location sort of chose her. "It was really important for us to have a presence here. We're in Fishtown, where everyone knows there's a lot of racial tension," said Cook. "And there's some history here that needs to be addressed."

A tension that played out on the streets there, following the death of George Floyd.

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"It was community members, neighbors and folks that aren't from the neighborhood came over here and stood in front of Harriett's and said, "Not today, no you will not.'"

When her 17-year-old son and his girlfriend joined her to march, Cook took a cue from Harriet herself.

"They were like looking at me funny when I said, 'Let's go downtown and hold up books instead of signs.' And I said, 'The books are the signs.' I see the bookstore as almost as a monument for Harriet," said Cook. We don't have to wait for other people to build monuments on our behalf. We can build our own way and we can build them anywhere."

Jeannine also chooses a different female artist every month at Harriett's Bookshop. She showcases her work there at Harriett's and allows her to make a book list to add to the collection.
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