When walking inside the main entrance of Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center, there is a 50-yard-long hall to the left. This hallway is the shop. Books line the shelves from floor to ceiling, while the focal point of the room is a drawing titled “A King and Two Queens,” a depiction two girls playing chess hung over bookshelves.
“They might not understand the power of playing chess now, but later down the line they will,” Carlos Franklin, the shop owner, said.
The drawing, which was originally a photo by Franklin’s wife, is of him and his two daughters. A friend created the drawing upon Franklin's request while Franklin was teaching his daughters to play. Franklin correlates the game of chess to long-term thinking and seduction versus acquiring power or putting people into corners.
“Having a long-term view allows a person to be in their world and not worried about everyone else’s world,” Franklin said.
Franklin's mindset is that long-term thinking is important in a business, but success also needs to be about your passions.
“I started selling books out of the back of my car because books were something I loved as my mind works differently than others,” Franklin said. “Through this process I did not focus on acquiring. I focused on gaining skills because if this did not work out, I knew what I learned will lead me to my next adventure.”
Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center is on West Michigan Avenue, a brick building down the street from Ypsilanti Library. Franklin and his co-owner Kip Johnson opened the store in 2013. The store survived the closing of brick-and-mortar bookstores as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Franklin credits that success to the relationships they built with customers.
“Our business model was built on not trying to grow the biggest customer base, but rather getting customers to keep coming back,” Franklin said.
Franklin believes genuine relationships come from embracing your past mistakes and failures. The name Black Stone comes from a street gang in Chicago that Franklin could relate to as he was formerly a part of Gangster Disciples, another gang based in Chicago.
“When I was growing up, I used to be a part of GD (Gangster Disciples). When I left, I thought that was me changing my life, but when I embraced that part of me, I noticed the real change,” Franklin said.
Franklin's testimony is embracing a part of himself that he once was embarrassed about.
“Embracing the name Black Stone allowed me to share my testimony of where I have been and challenge myself to be a better person to acknowledge the impact that part of my life had on me,” Franklin said.
Reading is where Franklin learned the importance of seduction, which is all about understanding the mental side of a person and their psychology. Seduction represents long-term thinking and takes time to grow and develop. He takes the idea from the book “Art of Seduction” by Robert Greene, one of his favorites authors.
The book teaches one how to understand what people truly desire and how to go after the things you want.
“Power is quick and hits real hard while seduction is over time,” Franklin said. “A lot of time people see power coming and it is easy to defend it, but seduction is something that happens over time. And it is precise. So sometimes a person does not know they have even been seduced until you let them know.”
Franklin realized the key to building a successful business was being the master of his world, focusing on his journey and not playing the comparison game.
“Everyone has their world and where we mess up is when we try to get into someone else’s world. See, you are either going to be the puppet or puppet master because we are trying to impress somebody or be with somebody. You must be the master of your world,” Franklin said.
Franklin is a big believer in the philosophy of going for it as he understands that chess and books are the same as acquiring vast knowledge. They plant seeds in a person’s mind and you never know when you will use it.
“When you read something or see something, you never know the power it has on you until you need it. This is something that I stress to my daughters and one of the reasons I tell them to read. Books give you the knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge in everyday life,” Franklin said.
Franklin said kids will get back into reading when we allow them the choice to choose. Seduction is all about allowing people to come to conclusions on their own.
“Teachers and parents try to pick and choose what their kids are supposed to read instead of just guiding them. I read everything. I sat on the toilet and read the back of toilet paper,” Franklin said. “It is more important that our kids read than what they read. Their interests will develop over time only if we allow our kids to choose.”
This trend of forcing kids to read certain genres and books is what creates the current trend of fear and allowing others to control us, according to Franklin.
“Oftentimes we spend our lives as the puppet because when we do a job interview, they interview us, and we do not interview them. We must have belief in our understanding and ideals which is partially built through books,” Franklin said.
The way Franklin approaches problems is what has allowed him to be confident in his journey and believe in himself.
“I do not see problems, I only see opportunities. My faith in Christ gives me a belief that even if I fail, my previous venture will set up me up for success for my next story,” Franklin said. “When everybody moves fast, you got to make them slow down. Being precise with your strikes allows them to have a lasting effect.”
There was a point during the COVID-19 pandemic where Franklin was unsure if the business would stay afloat, so he had to reinvent the business to keep it going.
“I never was an online guy because I wanted to focus on local customers specifically. I was okay with just having the local area support the business. But during the pandemic, we focused on shifting our store to online shopping while actively engaging with our customers online through our social media,” Franklin said.
Their uniqueness in interacting with customers can be seen through the growth of their social media pages. Their Instagram account, which started just before the pandemic began, now has over 5,000 followers. Similar trends were seen with their Facebook and TikTok accounts.
“Every time customers buy a book, we have them take a picture with the book and post it on our website. We want customers to feel a sense of pride holding that book in their hands,” Franklin said.
One of these customers is local real estate owner Candye Hinton, as she loves the selection of books available and the relationship she has built with one of the owners.
“Carlos is one of those people who always personalizes his selections for you. He sees you as a person, not as a dollar sign. He treats you the same regardless of whether you buy a book or not,” Hilton said.
Hilton loves supporting small businesses near her because of the value they bring to the area as well as the importance to her clients.
“Having small businesses helps build a community as they are what makes towns special as they are individualized to them. Other business owners must recognize their business does better when surrounding small businesses last,” Hilton said.
Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is located at 214 West Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti, MI, 48197. Visitors can find “The Art of Seduction” on the middle shelf towards the door right under the drawing of Carlos Franklin and his two daughters.