East Harlem Turns Page With Planned Bookstore

By Jeff Mays on October 18, 2011 7:52am | Updated on October 18, 2011 10:52am

Aurora Anaya-Cerda plans to open La Casa Azul, an independent bookseller in East Harlem after raising money through crowdsourcing.
Aurora Anaya-Cerda plans to open La Casa Azul, an independent bookseller in East Harlem after raising money through crowdsourcing.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM—Despite East Harlem's rich arts culture, there's no place to buy a book.

It's something that has bothered Aurora Anaya-Cerda since she moved to El Barrio several years ago from East Los Angeles.

"East Harlem is already very rich in the arts with all the museums, galleries and cafes," said Anaya-Cerda the manager of family programs and cultural celebration for El Museo del Barrio.

"There are so many murals. What I feel is lacking is the literary arts. That's where I come in."

After five years of planning, including studying the independent book sales model and interning at other independent book sellers, Anaya-Cerda is in the final week of trying to raise $40,000 to launch La Casa Azul, an independent book store she plans to open.

"Every time I travel, my first stop is at a book store. I talk to them about what works and what doesn't work," she said.

Anaya-Cerda said her store, named after Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's family home in Mexico City, will be a "community store" that hosts all types of arts events. That's why she went to the community to raise the money she needs to launch it.

Using IndieGoGo.com, Anaya-Cerda is trying to raise $40,000 to buy books, bookshelves and secure a lease so that the store can open in 2012. She will find a location once she secures funding, she said.

An anonymous donor has agreed to match the money Anaya-Cerda raises through Oct. 23. Until  Oct. 23, the funder has agreed to a 2-to-1 match for every dollar donated.

Anaya-Cerda declined to discuss who will be giving her the loan, but said it is someone that has seen the amount of planning and effort she has put into the project over the last few years.

So far, 190 people have pledged $16,320. Anaya-Cerda squealed when an online donor pledged $40 Monday afternoon.

"I've gotten contributions ranging from $4 to $500," said Anaya-Cerda.

A recent retail survey conducted by Community board 11 found that more East Harlem residents would shop in the neighborhood if the goods and services they wanted were there. Among the types of stores residents said they wanted were bookstores.

Anaya-Cerda also sells books at events at East Harlem cafes and galleries and to area book clubs. This summer, Anaya-Cerda started the East Harlem Children's Book Festival.

"People not buying books in this neighborhood is a lie because I sell books all the time. The support is there," said Anaya-Cerda.

She also isn't discouraged by the closure of Barnes & Noble branches and the Borders chain.

"Independent book stores are getting a bad rap. More attention is being given to those that are closing and not those that are doing well," she said.

One example is Word Up Bookstore in Washington Heights. The pop-up store was supposed to close in July but gained an extension.

La Casa Azul will fill a niche by providing books from Latino writers.

"The store will be a reflection of the neighborhood so it will focus on local authors. So many people from the Dominican and Mexican communities come to me because they can't find a book they are looking for in Barnes & Noble," said Anaya-Cerda.

She hopes those days will be over starting next year.

"East Harlem needs an independent bookstore," she said.

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