Rose Cafe will serve the Roseland neighborhood when it opens next year. Credit: Provided

ROSELAND — A South Side woman wants to spark a wave of Black-owned businesses in her neighborhood by opening a bookstore early next year in Roseland.

Rose Café, from Roseland native Iesha Malone, is planned for 107th and King Drive once work on the building is complete. Malone, a teacher at Roseland’s Chicago Collegiate Middle School, plans to open in the spring.

Malone’s idea for the bookstore came after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd. Many South Side businesses were damaged as some people looted in the aftermath of Floyd’s slaying.

Malone said she understood how her frustrated neighbors felt, but she didn’t like seeing local businesses destroyed — places her peers said they didn’t feel the need to preserve because they weren’t Black-owned or owned by Roseland residents.

“Because I’m influential in the community, I just asked everybody, ‘Why are y’all tearing up our stuff?’ Their whole rebuttal was that, you know, ‘None of this is our stuff,’” Malone said. “And it had me thinking, like, ‘Yeah, none of this is ours.’ Not saying that how they responded was right or wrong. But I definitely had empathy for why some people did responded the way they did.”

This, and seeing many neighbors cleaning up the mess themselves, got Malone thinking about what she could do to change people’s minds about Roseland, a neighborhood she calls a book and resource desert. For her, the area doesn’t have many spots for leisure and healthy conversation, where local voices can be empowered and the beauty of the community can be highlighted.

“[People] don’t think that there’s a lot of success in this neighborhood,” Malone said. “I’m not the only teacher in the neighborhood. I know a lot of doctors in the neighborhood but … we don’t hang out over here, so we want to put something here where we can go.”

Malone decided to open the book shop. Her friend, Rebecca Silverman, helped her collect donations and set up a limited liability company to get the shop off the ground. With a successful GoFundMe campaign, Malone raised more than $18,000.

Malone found an online book distributor for the Rose Café website and soon began selling books online and at pop-up markets across the city, emphasizing Black authors and themes of Black history, revolution, self-help, culture and other topics. There are monthly featured titles, book club lists and interviews with notable Black authors. 

Rose Café also got a feature from Boosting Black Business, an organization that highlights Black start-ups with crowdfunding campaigns. That helped Malone raise another $30,000 and secure the space on 107th Street.

The location, previously a residential building, needs to be rezoned by the city before construction can start.

“We’re learning as we go along the way,” she said. “I never knew that the rezoning process would take this long. If it was up to me, I would have been open last year.”

Books and audiobooks are available online as Malone prepares to launch the brick-and-mortar. As someone with a passion for education, literacy and peace, she said a bookstore is a resource her community didn’t already have and could greatly use.

“I think we need to read more, especially if we’re trying to respond to what’s going on in the world,” Malone said. “If we want to respond better, we need to start reading about how other people, influential abolitionists did it in the beginning.”

The cafe’s name is inspired by poetry from rapper Tupac Shakur.

“Literacy access creates transformational change in individuals and communities,” Malone wrote on the Facebook page. “Potential already exists in Roseland. Rose Café is simply providing water for the seeds for, as our namesake Tupac Shakur stated, ‘the rose that grew from the concrete.'”

For Malone, it’s important to start bringing new, Black-owned businesses to Roseland, a neighborhood which has struggled financially for decades. She hopes Rose Café can inspire others to do the same, taking the South Side neighborhood’s economic revitalization into their own hands. 

“I think that it’s important to support Black-owned businesses that are really trying so we can inspire other people to hurry up to open up some businesses before the gentrification does not work out in our favor,” Malone said. “If we don’t show that we can, we can really come together and raise a business, nobody’s going to want to ever do it. That means we lose.”

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation. 

Thanks for subscribing to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods. Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.

Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: