Eso Won Books: Place and People, Here and Now
Defining “place” can seem simple enough. The word is often colloquially used to describe the site someone is located in. However, there are larger implications and meanings of “place” than just a description of what’s surrounding. Tim Cresswell complicates the term by examining its colloquial usage. He says, “as we already think we know what [place] means it is hard to get beyond that common-sense level in order to understand it in a more developed way. Place, then, is both simple and complicated” (2). It is this difficulty that makes defining place all the more interesting.
For many, to truly know a certain place is to experience it. Ask anyone to describe her hometown and watch as her eyes glaze over with nostalgia as she talks about ice cream shops and sledding hills and makeout spots. It is very much a sense of knowing a belonging, which is why discovering a place through research can be particularly challenging. I can listen to her ramble on about her hometown for hours, but I will not be any closer to knowing that place because I have not experienced it. However, there are ways of understanding place in a more clinical and logical sense as a method of preparing for the actual destination. This is the approach I will take for describing Eso Won Books.
Situated in the Leimert Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles, California is Eso Won Books, a bookstore specializing in African-American literature and authors. It is located in a small strip of stores in the heart of Leimert Park.
Surrounding the bookstore are various African heritage shops, noted in the Google Map with red pins. A few doors down in the strip from Eso Won is a store called Africa By the Yard which sells African fabrics and clothing. Across the street is another store called Sika, named after owner Sika Dwimfo. They sell custom jewelry, African art, and gifts. Zambezi Bazaar, located nearby, offers a similar selection of African-themed items such as crafts, jewelry, clothing, candles, and incense. There aren’t too many restaurants in this neighborhood except for a Jamaican cuisine place at the end of the street. There are also places for the arts in this neighborhood including Gallery Plus, an African-American art gallery and store, as well as The World Stage Performing Arts Gallery, which specializes in African and Black theater.
This influx of black and African-American businesses is unsurprising when we look at the demographics of Leimert Park. In a section of the LA Times website called “Mapping LA,” it is shown that 79.6% of the residents of the area are black, and the majority cite their ancestry as originating from Africa. What this tells us is the sense of place for those who frequent this area is that of a nostalgic look for somewhere else. These art galleries and clothing stores are paying homage to the place where they or their relatives came from.
Most of these shops are independently owned, and have been for decades. Most have been in operation for over twenty years and have never switched ownership. They are staples in the Leimert Park neighborhood. A majority of this research was done using Yelp, a website in which users can review businesses, restaurants, and locations. In the reviews of many of these places, the users refer to the owners by name and mention the many trips they have taken there. A majority of the reviewers are positive about every aspect of the business, and recommend the places highly. A combination of the reviews, the lack of official websites, and the location reminds one of home. It feels like a community, a place where like-minded people, tied to African, Black, and African-American traditions who work together to succeed.
This place of Eso Won Books is a culmination of many things: of people, of businesses, of patrons. It is, as John Agnew describes, a “meaningful location” with three qualities of “location, locale, and sense of place” (Cresswell 7). For those who live in Leimert Park or are a part of the culture of these businesses, the “place” of Eso Won Books is reminiscent of something personal to them. It is seeped in African and Black culture. This place is that of a nostalgic community: a neighborhood that seeks to be recognized as focal point of the African-American community of Los Angeles.
Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.
Eso Won Books “Who We Are” Page: http://www.esowonbookstore.com/who-we-are
Los Angeles Times Demographics Page: http://maps.latimes.com/neighborhoods/neighborhood/leimert-park/
The World Stage Performing Arts Gallery: http://www.theworldstage.org/
Zambezi Bazaar “About Us” Page: https://www.zambezibazaar.com/about_us/