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New Bronx Bookstore Should Focus on Locals to Succeed, Bibliophiles Say

By Eddie Small | March 8, 2017 4:43pm
 Noëlle Santos's Lit Bar in Mott Haven may look something like this when it opens at the end of the year.
Noëlle Santos's Lit Bar in Mott Haven may look something like this when it opens at the end of the year.
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1stnoelle.com/ Noëlle Santos

SOUTH BRONX — The independent bookstore coming to The Bronx may have surpassed its online fundraising goal, but staffers will need to develop a keen awareness of what people in their neighborhood want to read to maintain a steady customer base once it opens, according to local bookstore managers across the city.

Bronxite Noëlle Santos is attempting to open a bookstore called The Lit Bar by the end of the year in either Mott Haven or Hunts Point and recently exceeded her goal of raising $100,000 through Indiegogo.

Hannah Oliver Depp, operations manager at WORD Bookstores in Greenpoint and Jersey City, said the excitement around the store's debut should be enough to spark substantial interest in it if and when it opens, but things may get harder after the fanfare dies down.

"I think especially in the age of Kickstarters and Indiegogos, people are so excited to see something realized that that in and of itself is going to guide her for a while," she said.

"The challenge is getting them to keep coming in and keep seeing what new and innovative and exciting things you’re doing," Depp continued.

She suggested keeping up interest in The Lit Bar by using it as a space to host events with authors and staying extremely aware of what types of books community members are interested in buying.

"Right now, my store is super focused on political activism and engagement with diversity," she said, "because that’s what your customers are asking for."

Chris Doeblin, owner of Manhattan's Book Culture, agreed that the success of the store would be largely dependent on how in touch Santos is with the local community.

"The market’s either there or it’s not," he said, "but in order to do the job, she’s just got to run her business well. She’s got to have the right stock, listen to what people want, make it available to them."

The Bronx has been without a major bookstore since the high profile closure of the Barnes and Noble in the Mall at Bay Plaza at the end of 2016, and several independent bookstores throughout New York have closed in recent years as well, including BookCourt, Crawford Doyle Booksellers, La Casa Azul Bookstore and P.S. Bookshop.

However, Crawford Doyle and BookCourt both closed because the owners decided to retire, and novelist Emma Straub said she would be opening a new bookstore in BookCourt's Cobble Hill neighborhood to replace it.

Santos said she is not concerned that it will be too difficult to maintain interest in The Lit Bar, maintaining that she would not be working so hard to open the store if she did not think people would patronize it.

Although she does not expect the level of enthusiasm surrounding the store to always be as high as it is now, she actually saw some upside to this.

"I do anticipate it to die down from the level it’s at now, of course," she said. "I’m actually looking forward to it. I’m exhausted."

She plans to maintain interest in The Lit Bar after its opening by partnering with schools and getting big-name authors to visit, something she has already started working on.

"I have a nice network of authors lined up ready to come into The Bronx," she said, "and people are going to want to come into The Lit Bar because they never know what’s going to happen."

Locals in Hunts Point and Mott Haven said they would be excited about welcoming a bookstore to their neighborhood and agreed with Santos that residents would be eager to shop at it.

Mott Haven resident Cesar Yoc said The Hub would be an ideal location for a bookstore and stressed that The Lit Bar should focus on selling books that offered readers a wide range of viewpoints.

"I think it should be a diversity of knowledge," he said. "Not only one perspective or history or whatever. It should be different."

Dr. Ian Amritt, chairman of Bronx Community Board 2 in Hunts Point, said that his community would welcome a bookstore as well, provided they could afford to shop there.

"I think there is a great need for it. Do I think the population that currently exists in the district will support it?" he said. "Yes. If it’s affordable."