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Frugal Bookstore recovers losses after a fire thanks to community support

The Frugal Bookstore in Nubian Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Frugal Bookstore in Nubian Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

As the community rallies around it, Roxbury's only bookstore is bouncing back after a fire and flooding caused extensive damage to its children's section.

Frugal Bookstore's co-owner Leonard Egerton said Feb. 12 started as a normal Saturday before he spotted the damage. It's the busiest day of the week for the shop, and Egerton was in a rush to open up. He made a beeline for his office to get ready for the day, but it wasn't long before something strange in the back of the store caught his eye.

As he approached it, Egerton realized it was a pool of water. Then, he noticed that the ceiling above the children's section had collapsed onto the floor. He and his wife Clarrissa, who co-owns the store, found out later that a fire broke out in a unit above the night before. The sprinklers had gone off, and the excess water forced the ceiling in.

"It destroyed our young reader's corner," Egerton said. Ten minutes before the start of the workday, the couple had no idea what to do. "My first thoughts were, 'We still have to keep the store open.' "

The two cleaned up the destruction as much as they could, blocked off the flooded section, and opened their doors for the community as they have for 13 years. About 80% of the books in the children's section were destroyed.

The damage wasn't the first in recent memory to shake the store: Two years ago, they dealt with the pandemic shuttering nonessential businesses. In May 2020, the Egertons turned to the community for support. They raised over $20,000 in 24 hours.

"The support was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful," Egerton said. "We're still amazed at how many people supported us."

After the threat of closure, the community continued to rally around the store. Frugal was also Boston's first Black-owned bookstore. Throughout nationwide protests against institutional racism, support for the store soared.

"With that support came that supply and demand that we couldn't provide," Egerton said. An influx of orders created a backlog and a few frustrated customers. The couple explained that some 5,000 people were ordering the same 10 titles, which had sold out nationally. The store's business has since slowed to a steady, manageable pace.

One of the questions lingering in the couple's minds was how long support for their bookstore and other businesses like theirs would last. The fire last month proved to them that it seems to be ongoing, despite the challenges.

"I would have just waited for the insurance to come through," Egerton said, but the friends and patrons of Frugal had other ideas. They proposed sharing Frugal's story — particularly, the importance of the children's section to the world — through another GoFundMe fundraiser.

In the corner of the bookstore, colorfully illustrated books of Black and brown faces line the shelves. Over the years, it has served as a place where families come to gather. It's a place where young readers can be surrounded by age-appropriate literature that features characters of color.

Clarrissa Egerton explained that the young reader's corner has a kind of gravitational pull on the store's visitors.

"People share stories about when they were growing up, how they didn't even know there were so many Black children's book authors," she said." Our children's section is our beloved children's section."

Not long after the GoFundMe went live last month, money began to pour in once again. The bookstore exceeded its fundraising goals, reaching a final total of more than $57,000.

The pair said repairs will take at least two months. They want to revamp the children's corner with more comfortable seating and creative displays with the money. They plan to keep customers and friends updated on their progress through social media.

"There's not a word big enough to say how thankful we are for the donations in the generosity of folk, you know, it's been very comforting," Egerton said.

The only bookstore in Roxbury and one of the few in Boston “for the people,” as Clarrissa Egerton says, will recover and remain open in Nubian Square.

Headshot of Lauren Williams

Lauren Williams Arts Editor
Lauren Williams was an editor at WBUR.

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