Eso Won Books: A Community Bookstore

Eso Won Books in Leimert Park, Los Angeles

Community is a type of family, a group of people you can talk to and share your ideas with, learn from, and make memories with. Eso Won Books is all about its community of customers and authors. For owners, Tom Hamilton and James Fugate, their bookstore is not just a store to sell retail, but a place to share culture and ideas, where books are a facilitator of change and awareness and customers come with listening ears and stories of their own. For twenty-five years, Eso Won Books has been fostering a love and knowledge of African American literature in Los Angeles.

Eso Won has moved around a few times in its history, but is currently on Degnan Boulevard. Eso Won Books is a proud member of the Leimert Park neighborhood. Leimert Park had 12,311 residents in 2008 census in a 1.19 sq mile area. The pie chart below shows the diversity of the area. The high percentage of African Americans contributes to the success of Eso Won Books as an African American bookstore.

Eso Won Books is one of many ethnic businesses in a small area. It lies next to Africa by the Yard and Heroik Entertainment, across the street from Sika, Zambezi Bazaar, and the World Stage Performance Gallery. This is a neighborhood of culture with a strong sense of African American culture. The ethnic names of restaurants and stores point to the heritage and passions of the owners and patrons. Eso Won sits in a prime location to contribute to the cultural identity of the neighborhood through inspiring books and conversation.

Eso Won Books fits Tim Cresswell’s definition of a “place” through location, locale, and sense of place (7). The highly African populated neighborhood is the perfect place for this passionate independent bookstore. It is a respected establishment in the community and is memorable for the atmosphere and conversation from the owners to fellow customers to the visiting authors. The map below shows with pins ethnic businesses in the surrounding area. I also placed pins over centers of culture very close to the bookstore, Fernando Pullum Community Art Center and the World Stage Performance Gallery.


Eso Won is the name of an African village. It was a calm place along the Nile (Lynell 3). I do not see calm to mean quiet like a library, but rather peaceful, comforting, homey. Eso Won is the place for patrons and authors who speak, share, listen, and interact. Eso Won’s connection to its customers is one of its strengths as a small independent bookstore. Through events, popular visiting writers,  and sociable owners who know their customers and their interests, Eso Won Books is able to generate interest and business.  Leimert Park has diverse levels of education, but there is a large number of people who never went to college and therefore I think reading great pieces is not as important as experiencing the authors and participating in the conversation for the Eso Won community. Fugate and Hamilton have made their bookstore into a location that people feel comfortable dropping in to say hello or talk about the neighborhood news. “‘People need a place to come,’ says Hamilton, ‘one that feels like their own’” (Lynell 1).  As the world becomes more standardized with global products and companies, the unique stores create a unique experience as they separate themselves their competitors. Eso Won has found a niche with their books and friendly atmosphere in the right neighborhood.


Eso Won Books is not a simple bookstore, but a meeting place. John Tebbel described how the old printers’ shops were often “a meeting place for politics and intellectual and political discussion” (6). Eso Won maintains that kind of ease with a modern bookstore. One local man compared it to a barbershop (Lynell 3), not for what it does, but for its atmosphere, for being a place people go to talk and share stories. The barber is friendly and open just as Hamilton and Fugate are. Eso Won became a place to stop in, to be a part of the conversation and community. It is a part of the life and culture of its patrons. With a comparison to a barbershop, comes a distance to the idea of the elitist independent book store. Fugate and Hamilton prevented Eso Won from simply becoming a place of high culture, but rather a home to the living entity of literature. To Fugate and Hamilton, books became a means of connection, authors became people to talk to and learn from, the physical bookstore became the place for it to all come together. Literature is not unreachable, but rather a part of life.

Eso Won has embraced the strong writers that grace its shelves. They maintain a strong relationship with their visiting writers through events such as signings. They have had a variety of guests come from Toni Morrison, Barack Obama, and Muhammad Ali. Each person brings attention to the bookstore and leaves the people with a new story and perspective. Eso Won is all about connecting people with literature that matters to the African American community. In high school, I was introduced to Toni Morrison’s writing through Beloved and although it has been several years, Beloved remains one of the most powerful and incredible books that I have ever read. It is a book that enlightens. Hamilton and Fugate have filled their store with books that inspire and broaden the minds of their readers. They have shared the stories that will start a conversation, a conversation that will take place right there with the patrons, owners, authors, and drop-ins. Powerful African American literature has found a home at Eso Won Books.

Los Angeles is a city of life, diversity, and culture. Eso Won has a fit into the Leimert neighborhood and culture. It is a place to remember full of great books, interesting people, culture, and African American literature.


Works Cited



Cresswell, Tim. “Place a short introduction.” Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

George, Lynell. “Meeting the minds: convening consciousness and culture at Eso Won Books.” Journal of Pan African Studies. 6.9 (2014): 1+ Academic OneFile. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.<>.

Patrick, Diane. “African-American indie bookstores: hanging tough.” Publishers Weekly. 23.Jan.2012. 9+ Academic OneFile.Web. 29. Jan. 2015. <>>.

Tebbel, John. “A Brief History of American Bookselling.”  Bookselling in America and the World. Ed. Charles B. Anderson. New York: Quadrangle, The New York Times Book Co.



Eso Won Books Website

Los Angeles Times Neighborhood Statistic

Neighborhood Website


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Map of Eso Won Books and Neighborhood

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