Building a Business After Service: Veterans Day with Books & Black Coffee

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After six and a half years of service, Shonesha Evans returned to civilian life and settled in Hinesville, Georgia. The city had no bookstore of its own, and Shonesha found herself repeatedly making the hour-long trip into Savannah to buy books. After lamenting this to her significant other, he popped the question: “Why don’t you open a bookstore?”

Evans told me she had never imagined herself as an entrepreneur.

“It's crazy,” she said, “When you get out of the military and transition back to the civilian world, they offer a class called ‘From Boots to Business’ if you’re interested in entrepreneurship. At the time I wasn't interested so I didn't take that class…”

But she had the background for it, and realized she could figure out the rest.

“My master’s degree is in accounting and business,” she said. “So I’m like, ‘I got the business aspect of it,’ but I knew absolutely nothing about entrepreneurship.”

After a bit of research, Evans found the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans, a course that covered developing, starting, and marketing a business. The program also gave her an opportunity to network with other veterans who had made the jump from service to business ownership. 

They were the ones who suggested she start with an online site and generate some revenue before opening a physical store. 

“I had been looking for a commercial space and it was really hard for me,” she explained. A brand new business was a risk that landlords weren’t interested in taking. 

So in August of 2022, Evans launched her online bookstore, Books & Black Coffee.

Following a successful launch, she also incorporated a virtual book club, which evolved into the subscription boxes she offers today.

“When I launched the book club, there was no subscription fee,” she told me. “A lot of people were signing up but they weren't showing up for the meetings.”

But on top of running the bookstore, Evans works full-time in accounting. She didn’t have the time to run meetings with so many no-shows. After a little bit of brainstorming, she created the subscription boxes. 

Evans not only stabilized book club attendance, but created an experience for buyers. Purchasing a subscription box gives her customers access to the virtual book club, the latest club title, and a bookish treat. 

“It’s what I would like if somebody was to give me this as a reader,” she told me. 

But she hopes that soon her book club will be able to meet in person. 

Earlier this year, Evans found the perfect space for her store in downtown Savannah, Georgia. Now, she’s busy working out the details with the owner and setting up the space.

As the name suggests, Books & Black Coffee will offer coffee and have a modern upscale aesthetic. Evans is also looking forward to partnering with local nonprofits, hosting events, offering story times, and generally being part of the community.

Rather than just waiting for customers to come to her, Evans said, “I want Books & Black Coffee to be doing their due diligence in the community as well.”

Despite her success thus far, Evans says she got a lot of pushback when she initially told people her plans to open a bookstore. 

“When you talk to people who are not into reading, they don't understand the depths of bookworms. How we love bookstores and enjoy physically going to the bookstore,” she explained.

But to anybody interested in opening a bookstore, Evans has some advice:

If you're pitching it to your friends and family, your associates, don't let them discourage you! Bookstores are still out there. They're still thriving. I think people would rather support independent bookstores than those bigger names.”

Evans expects to open her doors in Spring of 2024, so keep an eye out for her upcoming address reveal and opening announcements