Cultured Books: A bookstore with a purpose

Lorielle J. Hollaway and Cultured Books make sure that children who want to read have access to books. For her efforts, she received national recognition, a year’s worth of services, over $7,000 worth of devices, security, tech support, and a $10,000 grant to help them recover and grow from Verizon. Photo courtesy of City of St. Pete

BY MARK PARKER, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — When a Verizon representative approached Lorielle J. Hollaway about being part of a spotlight on small businesses surviving the pandemic, she never thought it would lead to meeting a Super Bowl champion and being featured on Good Morning America.

Hollaway, 30, owns Cultured Books on 22nd Street South in St. Petersburg. She credits an anthropology professor for encouraging her to get inside of the cultures that she wanted to study. At the same time, the number of high-profile police killings of unarmed African Americans led her to seek an understanding of why people perceive others as a threat instead of just another human.

“Cultured Books came from self-discovery, and what I wanted to do and how I wanted to make an impact on the world,” Hollaway said. “I realized that the media plays a big part on how we view each other. I wanted to change how children grow up to see not only Black people but people everywhere. So they can see themselves and others in a positive light, and hopefully, broaden their worldview.”

While many people agree on the importance of child literacy, Hollaway is taking that a step further by thinking outside of the box to get kids reading and embracing a literary lifestyle. One way she has done this is by organizing “The Book Report Project.”

This project was created to remove the financial barrier that some families may have purchasing books, especially during a pandemic. After completing a book report, children may turn that in as payment for a new book.

Cultured Books is located inside The Well for Life at 833 22nd St. S. Photo courtesy of Cultured Books.

“The average cost of a book is $18.99 for a child, so imagine a family of four wanting to buy two or three books for each child,” said Hollaway. “We just want to alleviate that cost.”

To further nurture their creativity, Cultured Books also accepts alternative book reports for their currency. Besides the traditionally written format, Hollaway encourages them in many forms. This has included collages, podcasts, and even a recipe card.

After people in the community and the Tampa Bay area began taking notice of Hollaway’s efforts to further childhood literacy, so did Verizon and Super Bowl champion Chis Godwin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“It was definitely out of the blue,” said Hollaway.

After receiving a call from Verizon about participating in a program, Hollaway assumed it had something to do with navigating technology. A few days later, they called back and said they would be interviewing her for a nationally televised morning show on how her store has made it through the pandemic.

That was just the beginning of the surprises, however.

The day of the interview, Godwin, who said he was familiar and supportive of Hollaway’s program, unexpectedly led the producers into Cultured Books. They did not come for a simple interview but also to present services and grants.

“During the interview is when the surprises got really, really crazy,” said Hollaway. “I mean, from the Super Bowl champ, Chris Godwin, to being on Good Morning America, was just really cool. They loved our story and what we’re doing in the community, and they just wanted to help elevate that.”

“It was great to team up with Verizon and give back to Lorielle and Cultured Books,” said Godwin. “I’m excited to see the way she continues to positively impact so many lives through literacy.”

Together, Verizon and Godwin presented Cultured Books with a year’s worth of services, over $7,000 worth of devices, security, and tech support. They also gave the business a $10,000 grant to help them recover and grow.

Aimee Novak, vice president of Business Sales for Verizon Business, was inspired after hearing their story and eager to help.

“Verizon launched Small Business Days to help small businesses get the technology and tools they need to jumpstart their mobile communications, connectivity and security, including free personalized tech evaluations,” said Novak. “After learning about Culture Books, their mission, and how they serve the local St. Petersburg community, we were inspired by their story and wanted to support them.”

While The Book Report program gets most of the publicity, Hollaway has also made it a mission to bring books to where kids are — being a popup bookstore aids in this goal. Right now, this includes Skate Literacy Community every Friday from 5-7 p.m. at Campbell Park and Breakfast Literacy Community on Saturdays at the same address as the bookstore – 833 22nd Street South, inside The Well.

Hollaway said she sees the impact her bookstore is having on the older generations as well. Not only do they appreciate just having a bookstore in south St. Pete, but a bookstore that carries an abundance of books representing African Americans and those from other cultural backgrounds.

“They didn’t always see themselves represented well and weren’t always able to shop for books like these for their children,” said Hollaway. “So, it’s nice to see that they can do that for their grandchildren.”

For more information, please visit culturedbooks.com. To donate to The Book Report Project, please visit ifundwomen.com/projects/book-report-project.

To reach Mark Parker, email mparker@theweeklychallenger.com

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