Entrepreneur Seeks to Fill Literature Void with Bronx’s First Independently-Owned Bookstore

Businesswoman Noëlle Santos markets the Lit. Bar at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Image courtesy of Instagram.

In a borough of more than 1.4 million people and ten colleges, the Bronx was left without a single bookstore after the Barnes & Noble near the Bay Plaza Shopping Center closed its doors. Now, an Afro-Latina businesswoman named Noëlle Santos is hoping to remedy her neighborhood’s book desert by opening an indie bookstore/wine bar she dubbed the “Lit. Bar.”

Santos recently launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for her vision and has collected more than $64,000 in donations so far. With her goal of raising $100,000 quickly coming into view, the 30-year-old HR professional said she hopes her bookstore will serve as an opportunity to change people’s perceptions of the “Boogie Down” Bronx, as well as provide literature that’s as diverse as the people in her neighborhood.

“Lit like literature, Lit like drunk,” Santos explained in a passionate campaign video. “Lit with passion to kill stigmas overdue to be debunked and prove, once again, that the Bronx keeps creating it. And we are worthy, that we are more than just sneaker stores and we support the arts.”

“So, I stand here today and ask you to open your hearts and help us show the world what many fail to see — that the Bronx is no longer burning, except with a desire to read,” she said.

In an interview with The New York Times last year, Santos described herself as a “Barnes & Noble” kid who grew up seeing the importance of neighborhoods like the Bronx having their own independent bookstores. As the borough’s population is predominately Black and Latino, she embraced the need for storefront shops, community centers and local organizations that “reflect the people that actually live there.”

This week, she told Atlanta Black Star that the closing of the neighborhood’s Barnes & Noble sent a “really strong message” to local children and the Bronx at large, which she described as a strong literary and art community.

“I want to empower my community,” Santos said. “The wine, and the chandelier and graffiti mixed theme that I’m gonna have in the store is symbolism of sophistication. I want [people in my community] to know that they’re worth this. I think its important for our businesses to reflect progression. This goes a lot further than just bringing books to the hood.”

So far, Santos said her biggest obstacle has been navigating the issue of gentrification in the Bronx, as an influx of affluent, white Americans move into the community and rising housing market prices displace long-time residents of the borough. The Boricua businesswoman said she’s been hit with concerns that her budding bookstore would be yet another catalyst of the widespread gentrification — an issue she’s working very hard to combat. Moreover, she said there are ridiculous rumors swirling that she and other entrepreneurs were in cahoots with developers looking to build new businesses.

“I get [comments] like, ‘Oh books and wine? That’s really white,’ ” Santos told ABS. “A lot of our people are just so conditioned to [that way of thinking], and that goes back to self worth, which I want to address with my business.”

The Lit. Bar is set to open in the South Bronx and will offer book lovers a variety of general-interest, multilingual books, gift items, special events and programs with a particular focus on community and women’s interests, according to Santos’ Indiegogo campaign page. The unique venue also will  host local art and community gatherings paired with the social pastime of enjoying a glass of wine — or three.

“What better way to loosen our tongues and talk about the books we love?” the Bronx businesswoman wrote on her campaign page. “Bronxites and visitors may partake in wines, craft beer and ciders, coffee and light bites at our bar made of books, chill out in a chic and comfortable environment tailored for reading, creating and discussing …”

Bringing a guest that’s well under the age of 21? No problem, as Santos’ bookstore also features a “children’s nook” for kiddie literature and storybook reading.

Things are moving along nicely for the Afro-Boricua entrepreneur. The Huffington Post reported that Santos took second place in the New York Public Library’s New York StartUP! Business Plan Competition in 2016, topped off with a sweet monetary prize of $7,500. Her campaign also got a boost in donations after famed filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted about the Lit. Bar on Feb. 3. Moore then put his money where his mouth is and donated $5,000 to Santos’ campaign, according to DNAInfo.com

Santos told ABS she’s hoping the Lit. Bar will be open for business by Summer 2017.

To learn more about the Lit. Bar or donate to Ms. Santos campaign, click here.

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