A new bilingual bookstore in Brooklyn is hoping to beat back gentrification by offering "a thousand worlds" to both English- and Spanish-speaking residents.
Mil Mundos, a general bookstore at 323 Linden St. in Bushwick, is only two months old but it’s already seeing an impact, according to Maria Herron, the shop’s owner.
Recently, a Spanish-speaking man came in to find "The Alchemist" in his native language.
"He told me, ‘It’s really amazing that I can read this book … in my neighborhood,’" she recalled.
Its name, Mil Mundos, means "1,000 worlds" in Spanish, which is meant to tip off residents that it is a space that offers a window to different worlds through its books, she said.
Nearly 50 percent of the books are in Spanish and represent a wide range of genres, from the political and cultural to sci-fi and speculative fiction with a focus on black and Latinx heritage.
Gentrification has brought new housing and retail to Bushwick that largely doesn’t serve the longtime residents, Herron said. Many of her neighbors find it alienating just to walk into a bookstore, she said.
"I’ve had people my age and younger who have grown up in areas such as this who have told me that bookstores are a Manhattan thing or that the place is too nice to go in there," she said. "That’s why we have accessibility built into our aesthetic — to shift from alienating to aspirational."
Herron plans to bring her books to local schools for discounted book fairs, host school visits, and have the bookstore become a community space where locals can connect and learn from each other through artist talks, workshops, magazine launch parties, book clubs and other gatherings.
"I want kids to take it for granted [that they have a bookstore to go to]," she said. "The only thing to do in the afternoon is go to a community garden or post up at a bar. Wyckoff is riddled with restaurants and bars but what do you do when you’re 16 or 8?"
Herron, 32, decided to open the 500-square-foot bookstore this year because she felt "a call to action."
"The only way to resist the onslaught of development is to put your nails in the ground and hold that space," she said. "There needs to be a place for the neighborhood that is already here."
On March 15, she opened its doors despite still working 50 to 70 hours a week as a camera tech. The store’s build out came in $10,000 over budget, so Herron set up an Indiegogo fundraising campaign for $50,000 to pay off the contractor and have working capital, she said.
"We opened despite all of it," Herron said. "This is anti-gentrification work. This is work that needs to be done for those who want to grow up and grow old here. I want to take care of my neighborhood."