Located above a restaurant in Stoughton’s downtown Main Street is the city’s newest business.
A 120-square-foot book store — the Itty Bitty Bookstore– has shelves that line the walls. Each shelf is packed with new and gently used books authored by people of color, with characters of color, or about people of color.
Owner Dominique Johnson said the books are not the same books students read in schools, or are not the same stories people of color hear over and over again.
“As a Black woman, I have heard some of the same stories (about people of color) my whole life. And sometimes you just need to bring some joy to it,” she told Madison365.
“I have all kinds of different books. I have some poetry and I have some fiction,” Johnson adds. “I have sprinkles of nonfiction books in there too, but I try to bring joy into the books of people of color because I feel like that is lacking in our school system — having that joy when you talk about people of color. Because a lot of times we learned about the underground railroad and Martin Luther King Jr. It’s like, we need more.”
Although owning a bookstore has been a dream of Johnson’s since she was a young girl, an act of vandalism against her home propelled her desire to create a community space for people of color in Stoughton, she said.
In May, Johnson had a Black Lives Matter sign on her front lawn for a single night before someone took it from her yard and threw it on her front porch.
After that, she started a campaign to flood the city with yard signs defending Black communities. Her initial goal was $500 – in less than 24 hours, she raised $3,900. And within a month, raised more than $7,200.
Since then, she has been in contact with alders and business owners to see what can be done to make Stoughton a more welcoming city for people of color, including community forums, events and even a physical space for nonprofit work.
She is the only Black business owner in downtown Stoughton, she said. And hopes the Itty Bitty Bookstore can be a place that represents, celebrates and embraces people of color.
“Having a space where we can come together, share our stories, [and where] allies can grow with one another to be able to create a more inclusive space, rather than just having the sign in your yard,” she said. “You actually need to do some serious work to be an ally, and to make sure that you are not perpetuating racism and that you are bringing a welcoming and open community.”
To keep patrons and staff safe, the bookstore is open on Sundays by appointment only. And although Johnson hopes to expand her hours and eliminate appointments, the one-on-one conversations serve their own purpose, she said.
“I’ve had people that come in and are like, ‘I haven’t been to a bookstore since the pandemic started and I am so happy this is the first I came to because we don’t have anything like this in Madison,’” she said. “There is no Black-owned bookstore where I can go to and say: am I making an impact? Or am I doing this right? Having those types of conversations is always my favorite.”
Johnson, who has been working as a youth advocate for high school students helping them navigate school and home life, started a campaign at her store called “learning to read should be free.” Patrons can donate $5, and Johnson purchases books for level 1 and level 2 readers. Those books are free for families to take, and encourage reading literacy with a child.
For information, or to book a shopping appointment visit ittybittybookstore.com.