Welcome to “Starting The Startup” a blog feature interviewing Black creatives and owners who are currently in the process of starting or recently launched their own platform, business, or brand! Oftentimes, we only hear about dope brands once the business is successful, but what’s really the most interesting and inspiring aspect of the business journey is what happens during the moments before the world gets to know them. We recently chatted with Asha Grant, owner of The Salt Eaters Bookshop — an emerging Los Angeles-based bookshop prioritizing books, comics, and zines by and about Black women, girls, femmes, and non-binary people. Are you ready for the real talk conversation you never knew you needed on Black entrepreneurship? Keep reading
Emma: Thank you for being here! When I saw your work online, I had to grab you for a NILE interview! Can you tell the readers a bit about who you are?
Asha: Hello! My name is Asha Grant, I’m currently a freelance digital media producer for Black and POC owned organizations, collectives, and companies. I’m also the director of The Free Black Women’s Library - Los Angeles and am an emerging bookshop owner.
Emma: You just wrapped up the fundraising process of The Salt Eaters Bookshop. What drew you to creating the bookshop and what’s the story behind the name?
Asha: My whole life I’ve been working to merge my personal and professional passions for literature, community building, and Black folks. I went to Spelman College and majored in English, minoring in Comparative Women’s Studies and African Diaspora and the World Studies. After Spelman, I studied the same thing at Teacher’s College, Columbia University for my Masters. I sort of assumed teaching was my path, but after teaching and working within the Charter School Industrial Complex, I knew I wanted to be in a position to create a more radical space for our youth and community beyond the classroom. The name is derived from the book, The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara. Both the book and the writer have had a tremendous influence on my life.
Emma: It really seems like your education laid a foundation for what’s now come into fruition.
Do you remember the exact moment when you knew this was a purpose you had to pursue?
Asha: Yes. Well, yes, and no. Owning a bookstore always seems like a fairytale sort of idea. It just sounded really exciting, but I wasn’t sure exactly how people did that. I grew up hearing stories of failed Black businesses, but I also visited so many Black-owned shops and restaurants that were really important in shaping my identity. Those two opposing narratives sat with me for a while. It really wasn’t until I launched the Los Angeles chapter of The Free Black Women’s Library and watched how the community around Black women’s stories continued to grow that I knew it was time to take the leap and start looking for a physical space.
Emma: In taking leaps into new ventures, there’s a saying, “there’s nothing new under the sun”. What makes The Salt Eaters Bookshop unique?
Asha: I think what makes The Salt Eaters Bookshop unique is how unapologetic and explicitly we are about prioritizing literature by and about Black women, femmes, and non-binary people. This shop will be the stomping ground for liberation. Foremothers like Marsha P. Johnson and Audre Lorde remind us that our freedoms are interconnected, as is the liberation of all people beginning with Black women, specifically queer and trans Black women and girls.
Emma: Asha I am beyond excited! At NILE we focus on empowering Black business owners and entrepreneurs. As a Black Woman entrepreneur, how did you go about learning entrepreneurship?
Asha: I’m honestly picking it up as I go! Growing up, no one I knew owned a store and so this is all very new to me. As a freelancer, I’m used to managing my business affairs and taxed on my own, but this is a much larger, and honestly, scarier, venture. Like the millennial I am, Google has been a huge resource. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos on bookstore management, reading lots of articles, and been in touch with friends I have in the city that have their own brick and mortars. I’ve grown to a place where I’m comfortable asking my community for help and am grateful for all the support the shop has gotten already from folks who own their own bookstores and are willing to share their advice and experience. So many people on instagram have contacted me offering their time for me to rattle off any questions about financial planning and so I’m grateful to my larger online community for that.
Emma: It’s beautiful knowing that you’ve already attracted a support system so early in your planning. What is one thing that you wish someone would have told you before you started this process?
Asha: I’m still pretty early in this, but knowing that you have the right to set boundaries between you and your work is really important. People will always feel that they have access to you and it’s okay to turn down “opportunities” and say no. As Black folks, I feel like there’s the narrative that we have to be grateful for every opportunity that comes our way, but we don’t have to answer every knock. Accept what you can handle and what feels good for you and your business.
Emma: You are speaking to my life and I am pretty sure the reader’s lives too! What has been the most challenging and the most rewarding thing during the process of starting The Salt Eaters Bookstore?
Asha: The most challenging part has been balancing my work life, the business plan, and my personal life. Because I’m working on creating an online shop while we wait for this global pandemic to end, I’m still actually freelancing full time to pay my bills. I try to set certain hours for clients and take time to work on shop details before bed, but it often leaves me without time to relax and watch a movie or even read. Having a healthy work-life balance has always been a struggle for me, but with all my work literally being at home, it’s been even more difficult to create those boundaries.
Emma: The most rewarding?
Asha: Receiving all the online love and support! Within two days of launching, we raised $20,000 and I started to get flooded with messages from the community thanking me for bringing a bookstore to Inglewood. It was so overwhelming, I was paralyzed by it all, I had never experienced anything like that before. Within a week we reached our goal of $65,000 and some. My favorite message was from a local Girls Scout troop who had put their money together to donate. One girl in the troop’s name was Asha and I melted.
Emma: Ok, I am not crying right now *secretly grabs a tissue*. Ok, if you had to describe The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 3 words what would they be?
Asha: Black As Hell
Emma: Just like NILE! Lastly, where do you see your brand 1 year from now? 5 years from now?
Asha: I love this question! In 1 year I see our doors open. I have this vision of the space having a really warm, creative, and inviting energy with mini art installations around, gold stars coming down from the ceiling, a small reading lounge section, Brandy’s first album playing in the background. A sanctuary. In 5 years...I see the same, but a bigger location!
Emma: Asha, this conversation was beautiful, breathtaking, and needed. One of NILE’S beliefs is: Make Black Sh!t Ours Again and you’re doing just that with The Salt Eaters Bookstore. Thank you for giving us your time and energy. When can we expect your launch and where can everyone find you?
Asha: I’m hoping to launch the online shop this fall. The physical space’s opening is a little flexible because of COVID, but I would love to open doors early 2021.
Emma: Any last words?
Asha: Don’t compromise the vision.
For more info check out Asha and The Salt Eaters Bookshop on Instagram: @_asha_grant @thesaltereaters.
Emma J., originally from Durham, North Carolina, is a model, actress, and producer and loves ALL things Black-owned! From living in major cities to overseas adventures, one thing that has stayed consistent is writing and conversing with Black entrepreneurs and hustlers. Follow Emma J. on Instagram @FromEmmaJ for more!
Tags: black owned, black business, black authors, black women, black woman owned, black books, black writers, black writers matter, women writers, women authors, black bookstore, los angeles