Meet the Bronx Native Trying to Bring an Indie Bookstore Back to Her Borough

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Alarmingly, a New York City borough with roughly the population of Phoenix – one of the most populated cities in the United States – houses only one bookstore. The Bronx’s Barnes & Noble very nearly closed in 2014, but the Co-Op City location remains the only place where residents can purchase books in their own neighborhood (outside from college bookstores that might be limited to students). And with no nearby train stations, not everyone can easily access B&N, so some choose to go elsewhere. A determined 29-year-old Noëlle Santos aims to change that and wants to make her home more LIT-erary through an independent bookstore/wine bar named The Lit. Bar. She submitted her idea to New York Public Library’s Business Plan Competition back in June, and if things come to pass, she’ll run the borough’s only indie bookstore. Sadly, Books in the Hood – the Bronx’s last independent bookstore – closed in 2011.

Just like LaVerne Harris, who opened Books in the Hood in 2007, Santos feels her underserved community deserves a bookstore. “We have 1.4 million people here and 10 colleges in the borough, and we have that one bookstore,” Santos told DNAinfo. “That’s how this whole thing started.” To get her literary fix, Santos travels outside of the South Bronx to events and lounges. And as a Center for an Urban Future study found, Santos’ bookworm ways line up with her boroughs’. Between 2002 and 2014, Bronx libraries saw a 225 percent increase in attendance.

As an avid reader and lover of literature, the Boricua entrepreneur seeks to create an open, creative community space overflowing with books and wine. Her ideal bookstore includes multiple zones for visitors to lounge, read, and sip wine in – and for the little ones, a designated Kiddie Liter area. She plans to set up shop in either Mott Haven or Longwood.

How Nöelle Santos would decorate her bookstore.
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The oft-ignored Bronx  remains misrepresented in the media. Almost a year ago, oblivious real estate developers Somerset Partners and Chetrit Group threw a celebrity-filled “Bronx is Burning”-themed party called “Macabre Suite” and decorated it with burning garbage cans and bullet-riddled cars – a clear allusion to the borough’s darker days in the 70s when seven different census tracts in the Bronx lost more than 97 percent of their buildings to fire and abandonment. The developers, who also tried to erase the South Bronx’s identity by rebranding it as the Piano District, certainly don’t have the same love for the borough. “I want to put that message out there that [the Bronx is] not burning anymore,” she said. “This is my contribution… Reading and writing are such a huge part of what it takes to elevate people as a whole, and the Bronx is largely cut off from access.” And by hiring an at least partially bilingual staff, she keeps her community’s needs in mind.

Currently, limited information exists about her bookstore, but Santos documents every aspect of it on her blog, 1st Noëlle.