Justin Williams has dreamed of opening his own bookshop and studio since his early teens and this year, at age 22, that dream has become reality in Dover.
A Delaware State University student, Williams this summer began renting a storefront in historical downtown Dover.
“I would say the demographic I’m looking for is minority kids who are underrepresented and underserved, ranging between the ages of 6-14,” said Williams.
At DSU, he’s majoring in studio art and social work, but has taken the spring semester of his senior year off to focus on his store — and avoid online classes.
Following a soft opening in August 2020, Williams stepped back to redesign his business plan. As a result, he rebranded his site as Taino Studios. It now has a much larger online presence, and he celebrated with a grand opening a few weeks ago.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 11)
“I wanted to test the waters,” Williams said, “and see how exactly people in the community would interact with the work I was putting out.”
Owning his own place is a goal he as been thinking about since he was 14 years old and growing up in Baltimore, Maryland.
Now a full-time Delaware resident, he picked Dover because he was inspired by the Biggs Museum of American Art, Delaware Store and Parke Green Galleries in Dover.
“They’re normal people, just like you and I, but they make a living doing what they love,” Williams said. “Honest to God, I didn’t know that was possible until I came to Delaware.”
The store is stocked with books, new and used, as well as prints and ceramics that Williams himself creates and all are available to buy online store. Fifteen percent all proceeds from book and art sales goes to nonprofit projects aiming to reduce mass incarceration.
Williams hopes that Taino Studios will not only be a place to buy books as well as a studio, but a place for people to learn and express their artistic sides.
It will offer writing, painting, photography, figure drawing, canvas building and youth artist development classes. Costs range from figure drawing lessons at $60 an hour to photography lessons for $100 an hour.
The in-person classes right now have a capacity of six to eight people, and they will be socially distanced. The students will follow a curriculum of Williams’ own design, drawn primarily from books.
Many of the classes are geared towards younger students.
For photography classes, Williams is currently working out how to provide cameras for the class instead of requiring students to bring their own.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 11)
“It would kind of be disrespectful if I were to serve an underserved community, and ask for them to purchase their own cameras,” he said.
The next scheduled event is Saturday, Feb 13, and is called “The art of being black & emotionally intelligent: Pandemic Edition.” The focus will be on discussing pandemic burnout, culturally competent resources and radical self-care. It’s free and online. More information can be found here.
The idea of self-care and emotional intelligence is something that Williams says helped him get to where he is.
“Making sure that I set up a ritual every night before I go to sleep taking time out of my day to say no to people and to meditate. Budget not only my money, but my time and my energy,” Williams said. “And surrounding myself with people that would allow me to grow, that was the most essential part of my journey.”
Stepping into Taino Studios, the focus on emotional intelligence and self-care is immediately noticeable, partly because everything seems to be placed with the utmost of discretion and care.
On the immediate left is a wall of used and rare books next to a table and L-shaped couch with two windows cut between shelves.
The quality of both used and rare books seems high, with spines and covers all in great condition. Titles range from “Art of Drying Plants and Flowers” by Mabel Squires to “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” by Sigmund Freud.
To the right is the checkout table along with a French press, where Williams is happy to serve you a cup of coffee.
The back wall is a shelf wall full of newly printed books all facing outwards, and a table with a glass chess set. Thematically, the one thing that ties the new books together is that they’re primarily written by Black, Latinx or indigenous authors.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 11)
Scattered throughout the store is art by Williams, a painting on the wall here and there as well as a shelf dedicated to his ceramic works.
The bookshop and studio cultivate the vibe of a place which, after the pandemic, should be bustling and buzzing with students, creatives and customers.
“I just want to provide a casual space,” he said, “where people can expand their intellectual and creative capacity in a carefree and judgefree environment.”
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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