In a day and age where just about everything is digital, Eso Won Books continues to highlight the enjoyable art of turning a page as you read. Nestled in Leimert Park in South Los Angeles, Eso Won is a true treasure cove for those who still enjoy a book-in-hand.
Originally known as Eso Won Books on Wheels, James Fugate, along with two other partners, went to different communities to offer reading material. Fugate had worked in college bookstores and came to California to run the book store at Compton College.
"Compton College had become known as a resource," said Fugate. "I put in a lot of additional reading books that students could read at the college.
"We became known because we had a pretty good Black History section."
Fugate eventually met his current partner Tom Hamilton and a third partner. Eso Won Books on Wheels would become Eso Won Books after Fugate decided he was tired of representing a well-known bookstore within the community.
"When I went out on the weekends, I was still representing Barnes & Nobles and I just thought, going into the Black community, if anything, you should be doing this for yourself," said Fugate.
After eight months of doing different events, Eso Won got a store on Slauson and Crenshaw. Fugate and Hamilton's third partner would receive a great opportunity turning the trio into a duo. Fugate would begin running Eso Won full-time after quitting his other job. Four years later, Hamilton quit his other job and both owners were all in.
Eso Won Books would eventually move to a couple of locations including one on LaBrea and Plymouth, then on LaBrea and Rodeo. It was here that Eso Won Books would established its clientele and roots in the community.
"We had President Clinton there, we had Maya Angeleou several times, we had Patti LaBelle several times," said Fugate. "We became very well-known over there."
In 2006, after ten years, Eso Won Books made its way to Leimert Park. The move afforded Fugate and Hamilton to be among other Black businesses although initially it didn't seem like the right one.
"A lot of the businesses that were here, you didn't know if they were going to be open or closed when you went in there," said Fugate. "It was really tough over here.
"It was also a crisis period for bookstores, the economy was bad in the country and other bookstores closed but we held on."
Eso Won Books almost closed in 2007 but their customers found them and started breathing life back into the store. The book store would move once more, this time to a smaller location where it is today. Although they lost a bigger location, their new location had its perks.
"We liked the idea of paying less rent," said Fugate. "That really helped us."
Eso Won Books has hosted a number of book signings with a long list of celebrity clientele from stand-up comedienne, actress, and former ABC The View co-host Sherri Shepherd to renowned ballerina Misty Copeland.
Fugate is thankful to the community for its support throughout the years. He see's EsoWon's success as a circle, one in which the community plays a vital role.
"Your support of our store continues to keep good books in print and continues to promote the books," said Fugate.
"It's very important to have independent bookstores. A lot of people don't realize what's going to happen if you only have one source of getting your books.
"The community's support of Eso Won means that we can support the community and make sure not only that it has good books but donate books to schools, other programs and doing whatever we can to make our community strong."