Frontline Trading Post bookstore offers a lens into Pan-African culture
By Maristela Romero
Nestled at the corner of Farragut Street and Baltimore Avenue is a bookstore called Frontline Trading Post, which opened its doors to customers last November. The storefront displays a modest array of books and artifacts alongside a small logo bearing the shop’s name and an ankh, the ancient Egyptian symbol of life, resting in the middle of an open book with the words “Ready for Liberation” scrawled across the pages. This, the bookstore’s motto, carried over from its Chicago-based book supplier Frontline Publishing Company, speaks to owner Deena-Marie Beresford’s vision of encouraging people to seek a better understanding of themselves and the world through books.
“We have the whole Black Lives Matter movement happening, we have COVID-19 … so people’s lives have changed so drastically,” Beresford said in an interview. “A lot of people are working from home, so that brings more opportunities for reading.”
The bookstore carries a literary collection curated by Beresford, who has over 25 years of experience as a librarian specializing in collection development — a role that entails assembling and managing library materials. She holds a master’s degree from Pratt University in New York and previously managed the south branches of Prince George’s County library system. The shop’s collection currently includes historical novels, biographies from prominent Black authors, and books on spirituality and feminism.
Alongside the literary collection, Beresford offers imported goods, including carved African masks, calabash bags and leather slippers from Trinidad, a colorful array of clothing, incense, candles, woven baskets, and handmade jewelry.
Beresford brought back many of these cultural artifacts and accessories from her travels to Pan-African countries, and in particular, Ethiopia. She said that she scouts for items that she believes will help people learn about culture.
“If they’re of African descent, they can connect to clothing, spices, oils and jewelry — things that make them comfortable with self … and people like the idea of things having come from abroad,” she said.
For people who have no personal ties to Pan-African culture, Beresford’s warm demeanor and openness are enough to engage passersby who step inside the bookstore, said longtime Hyattsville resident Jennie Reinhardt.
While on her daily walk around the neighborhood this past February, Reinhardt happened upon Frontline Trading Post and perused the window; Beresford and her husband invited her in. Reinhardt came away from the shop, content with her purchase of a book and a basket.
“It would be a great store to shop for holiday gifts in December. I hope they are around then,” she said.
Beresford explained that foot traffic to the bookstore has been slow since she opened, suggesting that the pandemic has had a significant impact. Despite these circumstances, she enthusiastically interacts with returning customers and passersby who are drawn to the shop out of curiosity. Beresford is eager to talk about her cultural merchandise.
“People come in and everybody wants to share — everybody has a story,” Beresford said. “And you know, I’m a librarian: We’re interested in sociology, anthropology, and cultures and people. It’s aligned with my profession, and it’s also aligned with me enjoying people.”
The bookstore’s top floor has a dedicated reading room for children which will open to the public once social distancing requirements are lifted. In the meantime, Beresford offers a children’s story time on the main floor every Sunday at 4 p.m., which is open to all.
This summer, Beresford plans to expand her offerings to include dried spices, fresh juices and coconuts that will be displayed in a little cart by the storefront outside.
A close friend of hers, Susan Jackson, who often helps out in the shop, echoed Beresford’s enthusiasm about transforming the bookstore into a place for the community to gather and learn together.
“She has a personality like no other, and she’s very knowledgeable about pretty much everything that the store contains. I see her going a very long way in the future with this,” said Jackson.
Maristela Romero is an intern with the Hyattsville Life & Times.