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Independent bookstore forced to close due to COVID-19, will open new location thanks to help from community

Third Eye Books is set to have a grand opening at their new SE Portland location on June 20.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Michelle Lewis and Charles Hannah have loved books for as long as they can remember. The husband and wife team don't just read a lot of books but they hunt for the unique ones.

"We also collect books that are no longer being printed," Lewis said.

The pair dreamed of their own bookstore and started from very humble beginnings. "We started in the back bedroom then we went to vending events, community church events, city events in the summer," Hannah said.

The couple caught a break two years ago when a mentor with free space in a building offered to help.

"We had a little incubator inside of his nonprofit and we kind of started there," Hannah said.

It was enough, and they launched their bookstore called Third Eye Books. Titles centered around the Black experience and the BIPOC community. They stayed in that space for about 10 months before leaving the country for Egypt. 

Credit: CK
Charles Hannah & Michelle Lewis, owners at Third Eye Books

"When we came back, it was really eerie," Lewis said. "We had heard about COVID-19 but it hadn't hit its peak and then when we came back it looked like that's when things started shutting down."

RELATED: 'Last of the old Portland': Cameron's Books closing this weekend after 83 years in business

The building they used closed and the couple packed up their books for storage, indefinitely. But then calls for racial justice swept the country and suddenly the bookstore focused on the BIPOC community had what people wanted.

Hannah mentioned one book in particular, "How to Be an Antiracist," by Ibram X. Kendi.

"We've had this book for two years, and this book did not sell for about 3 or 4 months," Hannah said. "But once the racial tension started happening, this book cannot stay on the shelf."

Online orders poured in. The couple needed a bigger space to keep up with the demand and started a GoFundMe page. The couple said within months, they reached their goal of $25,000.

RELATED: Black-owned businesses in Portland getting support during difficult times

Thanks to the community support, Third Eye Books has a new location at Southeast Division Street and 33rd Avenue, with a grand opening set for June 20.

"It's a blessing to you know that people are so receptive and want a space where they can come get books that center around the BIPOC community, authors and writers even local authors," Lewis said.

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