4 WOC owned bookstores in New York City supporting community and diversity in books

By Angely Mercado

 
Cafe Con Libros Bookstore and Coffee Shop in Brooklyn /Photography by Ryan Cameron

Cafe Con Libros Bookstore and Coffee Shop in Brooklyn /Photography by Ryan Cameron

 

All kinds of bookstores have been suffering in places like New York City. Everything from online sales, rapidly rising rents, gentrification, encroaching chain stores, have pushed out well-loved bookstores. One well-loved bookstore called Posman Books which was in Grand Central Station in Manhattan shuttered a few years ago. So many New Yorkers took it as a sign of the danger of more independently owned bookstores closing for another chain pharmacy or bank to open up in the city. Other much-loved book stores throughout the city have since moved or shuttered.  

But throughout NYC, many indie bookstores run or founded in part by women of color, are flourishing and adding to their communities. These bookstores don't only serve to sell books, stationery, and pens…they're a meeting place for community members. The owners understand the needs of their customers, especially marginalized communities and why it's crucial for them to include longtime residents into the process of feeling involved. 

Here are four that really stand out for their variety of books, and how they engage their customers as community members with creative interests and needs. 

 
 

The Lit Bar

131 Alexander Avenue, Bronx, NY

This indie bookstore and wine bar is currently the only bookstore in the entire Bronx. There have been other small stores throughout the borough over time, as well as a Barnes and Nobles that shuttered a few years ago. Many creative communities throughout the borough have been extremely underserved. Thanks to The Lit Bar, more literary lovers have the opportunity to engage with each other. The bookstore is owned and operated by Noëlle Santos, an amazingly entrepreneurial Afro-Latina from the Bronx who dedicated several years to planning and developing her business idea. She saw how underserved her community was and in 2014 she and many other residents protested the closing of the Barnes and Noble in her borough. Years later, she opened the Lit Bar and has created a space for adults and kids to enjoy themselves. 

 
 

Kew and Willow Books

81-63 Lefferts Blvd., Kew Gardens, NY

The three friends Vina Castillo, Natalie Noboa, and Holly Nikodem are the founders of this location, and met while working at the Forest Hills Barnes and Noble. It shut down in 2015, and many Queens residents were underserved. Until Kew and Willow Books opened their doors, there was only one bookstore in the entire borough. They hold speaking events with authors on a variety of topics, book launches, open mics, and they also sell signed copies of books for hardcore lit fans. Kew and Willow Books' Instagram is a beautiful catalog that showcases the diverse authors and topics for their books, which welcomes and nods to the diverse communities that intersect all over Queens. 

 
 

Café Con Libros

724 Prospect Pl, Brooklyn, NY

This small, cozy bookstore and coffee shop is on a mission to promote a range of women who have written all kinds of books. This location's name means coffee with books, and it's as warm and inviting as its' name suggests. The bookstore is the brainchild of Kalima DeSuze, a Brooklyn born Afro-Latina who loves all things literary and wanted to share that in an inclusive way. There are novels, biographies, and even picture books from overseas writers, a spectrum of women of color, and queer writers. And they also serve coffee, tea, and really nice pastries to go with them. There's also a community feminist book club, and a variety of events that include everything from women's empowerment to spoken word, and even writing workshops for new writers in the making. Everything is intentionally crafted to bring all kinds of community members together and to also expose new customers to different types of books and authors. 

 
 

Mil Mundos

323 Linden Street, Brooklyn, NY

This bookstore also has a really fun name. It means a thousand worlds in Spanish, and it's a bilingual bookstore that aims to serve Bushwick's various Latinx communities. Like the other bookstores, Mundos offers a variety of inclusive events, and they even have yoga and Spanish classes for beginners. They also have readings with diverse writers and even a knitting circle. Many of the events, classes, and books are bilingual so that as many community members as possible can participate. Maria Herron, the founder and co-owner, is Cuban-American. She started her business to celebrate the longtime community members who often feel displaced physically and culturally from local spaces that often leave out residents of color. No one at Mil Mundos will feel excluded or told to keep it down or to not speak Spanish. 


 
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About the writer…

Angely Mercado is an award winning freelance writer, fact-checker, producer and Queens NY native. Her work is featured in The Nation, Vice, Business Insider, Teen Vogue, and more. She focuses on the climate crisis, food, Latinidad, and NYC policy. Check out her newsletter Media Mercado, and follower her on Instagram and Twitter.

 
 

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