Photo from @thebronxisreading on Instagram.

Bronx Book Festival founder announces plans to crowdfund for new Bronx bookstore

Literary organization The Bronx is Reading recently announced its plans to begin crowdfunding in 2021 to open a bookstore.

Book publicist Saraciea Fennell unofficially started the organization in 2009 with the intention of opening a children’s literature and general interest bookstore. But after learning of fellow Bronxite Noëlle Santos’s plans to open The Lit. Bar, a wine bar and bookstore that is now the borough’s only independent bookstore, Fennell pivoted to supporting that initiative and revamping her own five-year plan.

The Bronx is Reading has since organized a literacy program for Title I schools and a book club that hosts author talks. They also held the first-ever annual Bronx Book Festival in 2018.

“The community continues to show up and support, and I am humbled every single day that I get to do this work and engage with the community,” said Fennell.

In a recent tweet, The Bronx is Reading founder Saraciea Fennel gave a shout out to The Lit. Bar, Bronx Bound Books, Boogie Down Books and Miranda Writes as Bronx-based bookstores that people should support.

“Support us now & help ensure a thriving literary community in #thebronx,” wrote Fennell.

The Bronx is Reading embraced the independent bookstore business model early on through independent book sales and programming in a way that other Bronx organizations continue to do. They are reinventing the Bronx’s entrepreneurial and literary scene, even without a permanent storefront.

Boogie Down Books was launched in 2018 as a “bookstore-without-walls” after founder Rebekah Shoaf held a book giveaway and noticed “a clear need for greater access to books,” said the organization’s marketing assistant, Melissa Silvester.

“Although we are based in the Bronx, our customers and community members come from both the Bronx and beyond,” said Silvester. “Being a bookstore-without-walls means that we can be wherever there are readers.”

Fennell expressed a similar sentiment, as her organization has seen an increase in demand over the last year. She’s since ramped up her scheduled programming and expanded the online storefront into a full-service online bookstore.

The Lit. Bar and The Bronx is Reading have followed slightly similar paths in their plans to open a bookstore in the Bronx. In preparation to opening The Lit. Bar, Santos started the Readers & Shakers book club and held pop-up book sales. She also successfully raised $154,546 from donors in a viral crowdfunding campaign.

The bookstore officially opened its doors in 2019, becoming the only brick-and-mortar bookstore to replace the Barnes & Nobles that closed down nearly three years prior.

“I was about 17 when they closed down the Barnes & Noble and I was really upset because it was the only place where I felt I could have access to books and read,” said West Farms resident Francesca González, 23. “Barnes & Noble made me feel comfortable and explore my inner bookworm.”

This lack of access to resources and diverse, multicultural programming leaves the borough’s 1.4 million residents at a disadvantage. In Mott Haven alone, 27.9% of residents in Mott Haven are under the age of 18. Fully a third of residents self-identified as having limited English proficiency, and 31% have incomes below the city’s poverty threshold.

“What about kids that go to CUNY, or go to Bronx Community College, or go to Hostos?” asked González. “There’s not really that much access to places like that in the Bronx.”

For now, Fennell plans to continue scouting locations for the bookstore.

Having a brick-and-mortar space will allow us to host even more events and service local patrons in whatever neighborhood we land in,” she said. “I wish we had the capital to open up several locations at once, but I’ll settle for just opening one location for now. After all, I just want to keep folks reading in the Boogie Down.”

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