Historic Detroit Bookstore and Cultural Center on Livernois May Be Reborn

August 25, 2019, 9:07 AM

Plans are under way to revive an Afrocentric resource with deep Detroit roots.

Kandia Milton, left: "The focus will be on community engagement." (Photo: Facebook)

Supporters envision a 2020 comeback for the Shrine of the Black Madonna Bookstore and Cultural Center, shut for about two years because of slumping sales. Rhonda J. Smith, a member of Detour Detroit newsletter's Emerging Voices program for citizen-journalists, reports on developments involving the site at 13535 Livernois Ave. in her Russell Woods neighborhood:

Plans are in the works to reopen next summer, said Kandia Milton, a project coordinator and minister at the Shrine of the Black Madonna #1 of the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church, the group that launched the store's first iteration in 1970.

The new store will have a new look and a new emphasis, focusing on being a cultural hub for the community and not just a retail space.

"We are in the process of working with architects to do a complete renovation of the facility," said Milton, 48. "In the 1970s it was our intent to be a place where we could bring about cultural awareness and be an expression of cultural determination in our neighborhood and community."

For more than 30 years, the store carried out that mission by selling books, clothing, art and other cultural artifacts. It also hosted events, including book signing and lectures with African American scholars and writers.

"A complete renovation" of the Livernois Avenue space in 2020 is envisioned.
(Photo: Google Maps)

As African American art, books, jewelry, greeting cards and decor items became easier to find online and at mainstream stores, sales slipped and the church-affiliated shop had a liquidation sale in 2014. Nilaja Stewart, national secretary for the Shrine church, told the Detroit Free Press:

"Business has been very slow for the last five years. . . . You can now buy African art at Marshalls, even though it may not be authentic. At one time, you pretty much had to come to the Shrine to see a large assortment of greeting cards with black people on them. Now you can buy them at Target. So if you're already at the mall, you're not going to make a special trip to come to the Shrine."    

A painting at the Shrine of the Black Madonna on Linwood Street. (Photo: Church site)

Now part of the revenue from a fundraising campaign will be invested in the new facility, Milton tells Smith. He declined to say how much the capital drive raised.

Organizers . . . plan to kick off the new iteration of the center with an African-centered marketplace. . . .

"We will be less of a retail space and more of a place where the community can convene around cultural issues," Milton said. "Yes, we will still sell books and art, but the focus will be on community engagement."

The reconstructed site will also house the church’s national office. The Shrines of the Black Madonna Pan African Orthodox Christian Church has sites in Detroit, Houston, Atlanta, Calhoun Farms, S.C., and Liberia. There are also bookstores and cultural centers in Atlanta and Houston.


The Sunday morning worship site in Detroit is at 7625 Linwood St. and the Shines' national office is at 8045 Second Ave. in New Center. It describes itrself as " a Christian ministry to the unique and specific problems of black people that have resulted from centuries of being declared inferior, excluded, exploited and underdeveloped."

"We seek to ameliorate these effects by developing self-reliant people who can effectively work for group self-determination. . . . We renounce the individualism of contemporary Christianity and embrace the sacrificial spirit of service exemplified in the life and teachings of Jesus, the revolutionary Black Messiah."

-- Alan Stamm

Read more:  Detour Detroit

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