Entrepreneur seeks storefront in Hunts Point, Mott Haven
At the end of 2016, 1.5 million Bronx residents were left without a single bookstore in the borough after the Barnes & Nobles in Baychester shut down. Today, one woman is looking to change that.
Life-long Bronx native and human resources professional Noelle Santos recently surpassed her $100,000 crowdfunding campaign to open The Lit. Bar — an independent bookstore-slash-wine-bar in the South Bronx. Her goal, she said, is to promote book culture in the Bronx and highlight the borough’s intellectual population.
“My mission through Lit. Bar is to give people access to books and kill these stigmas about the Bronx,” Santos said.
The theme of the bookstore, according to Santos, will have a “graffiti and chandelier” aesthetic to help create a feeling of nostalgia for the local scene.
“I want to preserve Bronx culture as much as I can as one person,” Santos said.
Santos has already found a way to get women reading – and talking about reading – with her 400-member book club, Readers and Shakers. The club started with 10 people last year and now meets at locations around the borough that can accommodate a crowd of women who are interested in the Bronx, reading and socializing, though maybe not in that order.
Each month Santos selects three books that will help inspire members, and presents it to the group during their discussion meetup where a vote is taken on which book they’ll read next. Some of the group’s past selections include “The Education of Margot Sanchez” by Bronx native Lilliam Rivera to “Born a Crime” by The Daily Show host Trevor Noah.
The Lit. Bar is not the first of its kind in the country, but it would be the first in the Bronx. Santos admitted that her concept was inspired by the BookBar in Denver owned by Nicole Sullivan, who is now a business mentor to Santos. The two met two and a half years ago, while Santos was doing research for a catchy name to use for her bookstore.
The Lit. Bar was a name coined by her online supporters, according to Santos, and has a double meaning.
“Lit like literature, lit like drunk,” Santos says in the spoken word piece she used to help promote her Indiegogo campaign.
Santos was born and raised in Soundview, but now resides in Crotona Park. In 2009, she graduated from Lehman College with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting, and went back for her master’s degree in 2012 for human resources.
Santos is not without some concerns about the potential success of Lit. Bar – and gentrification is one of them.
“I’m not really concerned about rent or my ability to survive in this climate,” Santos said. “My concern is that in five to 10 years, will I still be serving the same people that I did this all for.”
Santos is looking for a space now – a storefront with up to 2,200 square feet somewhere in Hunts Point or Mott Haven – and hopes to see her vision come to fruition in the next year.
“As entrepreneurs we need to stop measuring our success by how far we can get away from the Bronx, and stay here and actually make it better,” Santos said.