Last year was a hard year for Stefanie Corbin. She was laid off from her job as a restaurant manager in March 2020 and then watched as the nation grappled with the past and present of racism in the United States after George Floyd’s death.
From the turmoil, her long-held dream of opening her own business transformed into the reality of an inclusive bookstore that puts authors of color at the front of the shelves.
Footprints opened this April on Main Street in Buzzards Bay, the culmination of 20 years of dreaming.
Ms. Corbin began developing her idea for the bookstore when she was 25 years old. She knew then that it would be called Footprints. The name is a nod to her favorite poem “Footprints in the Sand,” which is now displayed on one wall of the shop.
The poem reads, “The Lord replied, ‘My precious child, I love you and would never leave you. The times when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.’” Ms. Corbin said when times are tough, she is glad to have an homage to her faith to ground her.
As a Black woman, the bookseller said it is at the core of the shop’s mission to represent people of color on her shelves and to help her customers diversify their reading. When she started telling people about her idea, Ms. Corbin said she received a lot of feedback that a bookstore focused on people of color would not work in a community that is 92 percent white. She disagreed.
“Customers say this is what they were waiting for. It’s not just the social issue Black books that they’re reading; they’re also reading other books by Black authors,” she said. “They want their children to have diversity in their reading. I think the community didn’t realize that they needed it until I was here.”
Shelves at the front of the shop are filled with new releases such as “The Sweetness of Water” by Nathan Harris and “The Other Black Girl” by Zakiya Dalila Harris, and a table in front of them holds classic texts by Toni Morrison and James Baldwin.
The shop also boasts a substantial children’s and young adult section, where picture books and graphic novels show cover illustrations of children from around the world.
When Ms. Corbin started the store, she focused on building her collection of Black authors. Now, she is expanding to include more stories about Latin American, Indigenous and Southeast Asian cultures.
This month she also had a special collection of children’s books about women succeeding in science, math and technology. The shop owner said “Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering!” was her best seller in August.
Footprints is part of the American Booksellers Association, a nonprofit network of independent bookstores, and will be participating in “Banned Book Week” next week with other shops around the country.
“I am going to put together a display so people can be aware of what is being banned in some school districts,” she said. “You’d be surprised what is considered banned. ‘Beloved,’ Toni Morrison’s most famous book, is banned.”
In addition to stocking shelves and helping customers, Ms. Corbin said she spends every day doing research on upcoming books to get the freshest selection for her shop. She also likes to learn about or read every book she stocks so that she can help customers find something they will enjoy.
The bookseller herself is reading “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois,” an 800-page book by Honoree Fannone Jeffers. When recommending it to a customer who came in on Wednesday, September 8, she said, “People get intimidated by big books, but you don’t have to rush through them. When you have a good book, you have to enjoy it.”
Ms. Corbin is originally from Brockton but was drawn to Buzzards Bay because of its proximity to the ocean. She called herself “a beach bum,” laughing, and said she believes her store will be one of many new brick-and-mortar shops on Main Street that will contribute to the revitalization of Buzzards Bay.
She is the only employee at Footprints at the moment but has plans to expand her staff as the shop incorporates a café this winter.
“The perfect complement to a bookstore is a coffee shop,” she said.
Ms. Corbin also hopes to host readings with local authors and other community events.
“The community has been extremely supportive,” she said. “Everybody has loved the store, and now they’re like, ‘Wow, we most definitely needed this.’”
Footprints is located on Main Street across from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and offers online shopping at www.bookshop.org/shop/footprintscafellc.