The Little BOHO Bookshop opened its doors along downtown Bayonne, New Jersey’s main street corridor in July 2017.
It was a lifelong dream of the store’s principal founder, Sandra Dear, a longtime literary publisher and avid reader.
Dear sought to create a “cozy getaway spot to find your happy place” when she opened the indie book store. In August, Oprah Magazine listed Little BOHO as one of the nation’s top 125 Black-owned book stores “that amplify the best in literature.”
That quiet nook was disturbed last month when the book store was targeted with racist emails and verbal death threats over the phone.
The ordeal left Little BOHO’s owner “shaken.” But it was the latest in a series of racially charged threats the bookstore began receiving the day after its grand opening.
That all seemingly came to an end when Bayonne police arrested the alleged cyber-terrorist prowling outside Little BOHO on Nov. 21. Qiuewn Zheng, a 59-year-old Hoboken, New Jersey, man, was charged with bias intimidation, cyber harassment and terroristic threats.
“Last night a tear finally escaped, but this incident will not change me,” Dear wrote in a heartfelt post on the store’s social media pages one day later.
But the relief was short-lived. During a Dec. 8 detention hearing, a judge ordered Zheng’s release from jail while he awaits trial, NJ.com reported.
The following two days, Dear closed her shop to the public as a precaution. She informed Little BOHO staff of Zheng’s release in a Dec. 8 note to her team
“I am a mother, and I am a daughter,” she said. “And for the many hours each day the amazing young people who work for me and with me are in the bookshop, they are not just working for me, they are in my care and I take that responsibility seriously.”
According to a media statement from the police department, officers responded to Little BOHO on Nov. 20 after Dear reported a threatening phone call and two emails with racial slurs that were sent to the business.
Bayonne PD increased patrols around the book store and were able to apprehend Zheng the following day. The suspect approached several officers and a detective posted outside the shop, speaking unintelligibly. He then began saying phrases that were included in the racist emails. Investigators identified Zheng as the man behind the threatening messages, according to the police department.
The Bayonne Police Telecommunications Center has received numerous harassing calls since Oct. 18. Police say Zheng is also being investigated as a suspect in those incidents.
It was not clear if he was implicated in any previous reports of harassment at Little BOHO.
Joseph Isabella, the Hudson County Superior Court judge who ordered Zheng’s release, “sternly warned” him to have no contact with Dear and stay away from the book store, according to NJ.com. The judge told him he will be re-arrested if he does.
Zheng will also have to undergo mental health evaluations and check in with the court’s pre-trial services each week.
‘Love Overcomes Hate‘
Dear announced Zheng’s arrest in her Nov. 22 messages on Facebook and Instagram.
She also outlined years of abuse that began Aug. 1, 2017 — the day after Little BOHO opened. That’s when she received a note in the mail that read “get out, we do not want your kind here,” she said.
About a year later, she got a troubling phone call. Dear explained that she went to the gym on a “cold Monday morning” and was running late to the bookstore, so she wrapped her hair in a black T-shirt. Later in the day, someone called and asked if she sold the Quran. When Dear said yes, the caller replied, “I need 50 copies and I’d like to burn them and you in your store,” then hung up.
“I took a deep breath, and I’ve worn my tee shirt head wraps to the store every day since,” Dear wrote in her post.
She shrugged them aside. And although the notes, emails and phone calls didn’t stop completely, Dear said they were fewer and farther between in the three years that followed. But the racial harassment reached a tipping point with the calls and emails that came in shortly before the store opened the morning of Nov. 20.
“So am I okay, you asked,” she wrote. “No I am not okay, not right now. But I will be!”
Dear did not let the ordeal break her resolve for long.
“TODAY I RECLAIM MY HAPPY PLACE,” she proclaimed Nov. 24 on Facebook. “Still a little shaken, but more determined than ever not to bend! Books have the power to inspire, enrich and entertain, and we are as committed now as we ever were to keeping that vital spirit a reality.”
People from across the country rallied around Dear and the store. Not only that, people poured into Little BOHO after she shared her story to support the business.
“You appear to be a remarkable human being and I will remember your bookshop when I need a book in the future and order it from you,” an Oregon woman named Ann Scott wrote on the store’s Facebook page. “Thank you for being a loving soul in this complicated world.”
Dear said customers showed up with a clear message that “love overcomes hate.” Little BOHO enjoyed the biggest sales day in its history on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28, according to NBC News. Dear noted that many drove from afar and stood in long lines outside in the cold to show their support.
“My biggest fear in all of this was any impact to the team that work for me,” she told the network. “And that’s why I felt the need to speak out.
“What if something had happened to these young people? What do I do then? How do I tell their parents?” she continued. “That is what drove me to put it out. And to finally say, ‘Enough is enough.’ “