First Black-owned Bookstore Opens in Middletown

By Journalist Ms. Jones

MIDDLETOWN – Looking for a place to read and sip a cool drink? Move over Starbucks. Orange County’s first Black-owned bookstore opened on Saturday, July 16th in the heart of downtown. You can drink Caribbean drinks like sorrel and mauby. The owner, Yaa Yaa Whaley-Williams, named the bookstore after her grandmother Sadie.

“Sadie came to this country from Jamaica… didn’t have much formal education, but she was passionate about giving my mother and all of her grandkids rich experiences centered in community with a love of books,” said Whaley-Williams who scattered her grandmother’s things all around the store including her typewriter, her Nina Simone album, her shortwave radio, and her Polaroid camera from the 1960s.

Newly opened Sadie's Books & Beverages is the 1st Black-owned bookstore in Orange County.
Newly opened Sadie’s Books & Beverages is the 1st Black-owned bookstore in Orange County.

Sadie’s is no ordinary bookstore. Most bookstores offer genres like fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, self-help, and travel. Not Sadie’s. Their bookstore is organized by hashtags like #facts, #educatorvibez, #acts&verses, #comics, #make$en$e, #foodies, #thereal, #theunreal, #knowyourrights, #speakcode, #AtoZforASD, #thetea, #she/her/hers, and #mindbody&soul.

“We have 22 genres… To make the bridge and connection between vintage and current, all of the genres are named as hashtags. So young adult books are #adult-ish. Books for the kids are #fortheyoungins. Books for babies are #forthebabies… Autobiographies are #itellit. Biographies #youtellit. Movies or books turned into movies are #flicks. We have books on race #staywoke… #the G.O.A.Ts, those are the best sellers… This genre #restinpower… [is] books about or written by anyone who contributed to the culture that died last year… We have decks of cards and games, but centered around… the African Diaspora… Then we put… T-shirts and merchandise that are themed to each of the bookcases,” said Whaley-Williams.

The left side of the store is a bookstore. The right side of the store is a museum exhibit space where books are highlighted that were gifted and signed by the author. People in the community gift artifacts as well. Mavis Alexander donated a book from the 1960s and an altered book with convoluted folds.

Sadie's Books & Beverages, Orange County's 1st Black-owned bookstore, celebrates their grand opening.
Sadie’s Books & Beverages, Orange County’s 1st Black-owned bookstore, celebrates their grand opening.

“What made me donate to Sadie’s is because I understand that it’s about our ancestors and she’s dedicating it to her grandmother… I appreciated my grandmother because my grandmother came from Guyana, South America…When we were little girls, she took care of me and my sister… So, when I came in, I saw what she did and things from her grandmother. I said, ‘Well, I have to give you some of my art that I learned and things of using my hand from my grandmother so we can keep the legacies going on and on,’” said Alexander who created the altered book with convoluted folds. “I did the… book folding… I also teach children and adults how to fold the books which becomes sculpture… It’s very soothing and relaxing. It’s like a little meditation.”

Sadie’s is more than a bookstore. It is a place to rejuvenate, cultivate, and educate. They are collaborating with several other Black-owned businesses that will sell their products there and provide workshops in the evenings. These businesses include Fusion Eyewear, The Lancer Project, Brooklyn Craft Factory, Co Made It, Measured to Fit, Dudley Designs NYC, Dyvrsd Designs, Get Flawless, Fatherless Yet Fabulous, Peche by Jessica Skin Care, The Feel Good Experience, Cupcake Treats by Jenny Mitchner, Mid Hudson Chocolate Milk, and Glitz & Glam Jewelry.

“We’re a cultural hub. We’re a Youth Chamber of Commerce. We’re a space for community organizations to meet,” said Whaley-Williams who also plans to broadcast her podcast “Untenured” in the back of the bookstore and have a monthly jazz night called “Sweet Sadie’s” as well as other events. “We’re doing a program geared towards youth every month. This month, there’ll be a paint party where they’ll hear books read aloud to them… and then they’ll get to paint something, paint by number… a cultural piece… Then for families, we’re going to do one family program a month. [For] August it’s going to be “Get Fit With Lit” and so you’ll have an hour of fitness in the local old Erie Park… and then you’ll come here and have an hour of story time and you’ll get to leave with a signed autograph of a book. We’re going to have financial literacy courses [and] candle-making workshops… We want to host educational birthday parties where maybe instead of a clown and a bouncy house you have a children’s book author give as party favors signed copies of the books.”
Sadie’s Books and Beverages will be having a Back to School Book Party on September 3rd. They will also be having a Back to College Campus Giveaway on August 16th and August 23rd.

“People always give away backpacks and supplies and that’s great. But what about all the young people who are first generation American or they’re single parent households and they’re going off to college? Detergent, hampers, shower gel… pain relief medication… All those things add up when we send them off to college… We send them off to college with one less thing to worry about,” said Whaley-Williams.

Journalist Ms. Jones

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