By Eliot Schiaparelli
Thanks to Noëlle Santos, the Bronx, which has been without a single bookstore since the end of December 2016, now has Lit. Bar. The store, which opened April 27, is part wine bar and part bookstore.
“Lit like literature, lit like drunk,” as Santos refers to it.
Dozens of neighbors as well as Bronx Borough President Reuben Diaz and other Bronx officials came for the store’s ribbon cutting. They cheered as Santos opened the store with a poem.
“Thank you for opening your hearts and helping me show the world what many failed to see, that the Bronx is no longer burning except with the desire to read,” recited Santos. “And that we thrive just like the indie bookseller that you were told died. The numbers don’t lie.”
Santos said she felt she needed to open the bookstore because she felt there was a systemic issue.
She pointed out that the Bronx has 1.5 million people and 10 colleges but no bookstores. Santos first became aware of the death of Bronx bookstores as she worked to save the Bronx’s only bookstore – a Barnes & Noble in Co-Op City. Even if that store, which closed in 2016, had been saved, she said the Bronx still would have been grossly underserved from a literary perspective.
“Public transportation was something that was really important to me. So when we did have the Barnes & Noble in Co-Op City, I thought I was bringing the second bookstore to the Bronx, but it wasn’t really accessible by public transportation,” said Santos. “If you come from where I live in the South Bronx, it would have taken you up to 50 minutes to get to that Barnes & Noble, and we don’t keep our dollars in the Bronx that way.”
Lit. Bar opened on Indie Bookstore Day. The store in Mott Haven has every kind of book one can think of, from children’s books with a diverse array of faces on the covers to a section on feminism and intersectionality to the teen fiction like the “Twilight” series. Santos said she picks all the books herself.
“I carefully curated this store. I make sure the inventory reflects the community, which is mostly Latinx and African American population. So we focused on marginalized voices, people of color, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, the whole range,” she said.
The store is in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, near an area that has started to be frequented by hipsters and is sometimes referred to as So Bro. Santos, however, had a response for those who accused her of gentrifying the area.
“I’ve been accused of supporting gentrification because I stand to capitalize. No, I’m not the type to pick up a picket sign, I’m solution oriented,” said Santos in her poem. “I said bet to developers, the bad guys and went to home to write my business plan to ensure that faces that look like mine are represented in these market rate districts in a few years time.”
The bookstore was created in a large part thanks to a crowdfunding campaign. The campaign, called, “Let’s Bring a Goddamn Bookstore to the Bronx” had a goal of $100,000 but raised over $170,000. Santos thinks people were passionate about both her and the store.
“I’m a black Latina female from the community so people were connected to me as a person who was here and homegrown and doing something that’s by us and for us,” said Santos.
Santos said it was important for her to create a space for art and literature in the Bronx.
“I hope the Lit. Bar brings intellectual visibility to the Bronx. We have no shortage of intellect. We have no shortage of talent, and we want to have a hub for people to convene and have a place for people who love literature to enjoy the arts and support them, and I hope we expose the youth to bookstores. I didn’t know this was a career opportunity for me until I was 28-years-old.”