The Bronx Finally Gets Its First and Only Bookstore
In 2016 after a long and painful battle, the Barnes & Noble located in the Bronx Co-Op City shopping center finally closed down. It was the last general interest bookstore left in the Bronx, opened only after an assemblyman lobbied relentlessly for it in the late 90’s.
This left the borough in a literary drought - a county of almost 1.4 million residents with 10 colleges, a quarter million public school students, and zero bookstores to serve the public.
I wish I had known bookselling was a career option growing up. I hadn't stepped foot inside of an INDIE bookstore until I was 28--AFTER deciding to open my own. I had access to B&N at 23. My books came from the street & car trunks up until then. Sad & beautiful at the same time.— Noëlle Santos (@bossynbookish) June 26, 2018
The Barnes & Noble shutdown was what inspired Bronx native Noëlle Santos to quit her day job as an HR director on Wall Street to follow her dreams of becoming an entrepreneur and opening the bookstore / wine bar that has been dubbed The Lit. Bar.
Santos has built this dream from the ground up. Recently named as Essence Magazine’s Woke 100 Women, she has made a splash across headlines as the only person with the massive undertaking of opening the borough’s only bookstore. She quickly rose to be a part of the Bronx's growing literary scene and has garnered an impressive amount of support from people all across the country.
"Noëlle, @rgay is here for @thelitbar signing." Then I proceed to twirl in excitement--my hips taking out an entire display. The products, flowers, everything🙊😂 Whatever; this was still the best moment of my bookselling career. Like what do I even aspire to after this? #ozyfest pic.twitter.com/Ru8yKwJ3oF— Noëlle Santos (@bossynbookish) July 25, 2018
She’s also received a great deal of support from her original IndieGoGo campaign that raised 125% of its goal.
I fell in love with the idea as soon as I heard about Santos’s story. As a fellow south-Bronx resident and CUNY graduate, I saw a lot of myself being represented in the Afro-Boricua who started her own book club and moonlighted as a Bronx book-lover on the side of a corporate job. As she states on The Lit. Bar website, “The Lit. Bar will be just as multifaceted as me: a bookstore/wine bar/community center. I dream of a graffiti & chandelier theme, much like my life.”
While the closing of the much-loved (but inaccessible - who was going to take a 45 - 60 minute bus ride to get there?) Barnes & Noble definitely opened the door for Santos, she also felt a massive amount of pressure on The Lit. Bar. She stated this on her blog, 1st Noelle, subtitled 'Bossy & Bookish in the South Bronx':
I appreciate everyone’s social media comments as it seems The Lit. Bar is a shoo-in for our fallen bookshop, but do not rejoice. The Lit. Bar is set to be a 2,100-2,500 square foot operation 10 miles from Bay Plaza; with over 1.4 million residents and 10 colleges, our borough will remain grossly underserved. Don’t get me started on the message this sends to our children.
Remember her face, her personality, and her big ideas: this Latina bookworm has come to stay.
I, like many other Bronx residents, can’t wait for the Lit. Bar to open just a quick train ride from my home. While it doesn’t solve the problems present in the Bronx, it definitely is one of many great first steps in the right direction.
As one of the last counties of New York City to meet the cold touch of gentrification, the stigma of the dirty, dangerous boogie-down Bronx just won’t let up. Efforts like the Lit. Bar and the Bronx Book Festival are just some of the few grassroots community organizations that are trying to make a difference in the lives of these county residents. This is a borough saturated with low-income families, public schools, and creatives all wanting to make a difference - and I think we deserve a damn bookstore.
Featured Image Via BossynBookish Facebook