In DC Sankofa’s Tax Break Wins Approval

The Washington, DC bookstore owned by Ethiopian-American filmmaker Haile Gerima and his wife Shirikiana Gerima, has won an approval of a ten-year tax break from the D.C. City Council. (DCist)


Sankofa’s Tax Break Wins Approval From The D.C. Council

A decades-old District institution on Georgia Avenue NW looks like it’s slated for a 10-year tax abatement, after the black-owned bookstore lobbied for relief from the city.

The D.C. Council was unanimous on Tuesday in its approval of a tax break for Sankofa Video Books & Cafe. Like all permanent legislation, the bill requires another vote at the council before heading to the mayor’s desk. There’s no date set for the second vote, though it could come as soon as July 9, according to the office of Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who introduced the legislation.

While the city has long used tax breaks and other incentives to entice corporations and developers, it has less frequently directed those tools towards retaining small businesses.

“I hope that the Sankofa example is a spark for protections to be put in place for small black businesses,” says Sankofa co-owner Shirikiana Gerima. “Legacy businesses who’ve been here through crack, through, in some cases, the riots, through gentrification—the latest devastation, they need to be supported in really, really concrete ways.”

As written, the bill exempts Sankofa from taxation for the coming decade, as growing property values in Pleasant Plains have left the business with a rising tax bill. This year, Sankofa owes $30,000 in property taxes, a 25 percent increase over the past decade, according to Gerima’s testimony to the D.C. Council. That number is projected to rise to $36,000 by 2022, according to D.C.’s chief financial officer. The CFO valued the abatement at $415,346 over a 10-year period, and determined that the business could survive without it.

But Gerima says that Sankofa is more than bookstore—it’s a community meeting place for “people who are thirsty to know about their culture and history.” She says all of the people who signed a petition and lined up to testify at the D.C. Council on Sankofa’s behalf earlier this June are a testament to that mission. “We’ve been out here working hard for a long time and the sustenance has been the growth of people around us and ourselves, too,” she says.

The shop sits just down the street from Howard University and a few blocks from the Metro PCS store in Shaw, which have been at the center of recent conflicts over who has a right to space in the city.

Gerima thinks the city needs to be involved in these discussions. “The government is a gatekeeper and they have a responsibility to look out for D.C. residents old and new,” she says.

In exchange for the tax break, the legislation requires that more than half of Sankofa’s employees live in D.C., with more than 30 percent of them living in Ward 1. Gerima says this measure won’t be a problem.

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In DC Haile Gerima’s Bookstore Sankofa Takes Tax Fight to City Council

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