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The Lit. Bar, the Bronx's only general interest bookstore, can 'empower' the borough, owner says 

The bookstore nearly sold out during its opening week in Mott Haven. 

Noëlle Santos, owner of the Bronx's new The

Noëlle Santos, owner of the Bronx's new The Lit. Bar, didn't have a local bookstore nearby when she was a child.  Photo Credit: John Roca

Book lovers snatched up nearly every last read on the shelves of The Lit. Bar in its opening week, proving what literature enthusiast Noëlle Santos has known for years: The borough needs more books.

“They completely bought out the store,” Santos says.

Last month, the Bronx native became the owner of the only general interest bookstore in the borough. It’s the first to open since the Baychester Barnes & Noble closed in 2016, and will soon be followed by a planned Bronx Bound Books mobile store.

After her April 27 ribbon cutting, locals swarmed her Mott Haven shop, leaving her with only about two books per shelf. Santos and her team had to swiftly shift to part-time business hours to restock and “put the store back together.”

Though mere days into her business endeavor, the 32-year-old describes owning the beacon of books with enthusiasm.

“It’s like Walmart Black Friday in here. Every day since [opening], it has not died down,” she says. “To see that support is a shock to me every day. I don’t take it for granted.”

"The area is gentrifying and a lot of us feel helpless, defenseless. The Lit. Bar gives new hope" 

Noëlle Santos, The Lit. Bar

When she fully restocks, her shelves will hold a variety of popular fiction and nonfiction works of literature, with a focus on marginalized voices.

“It was important to me to not be the ‘black bookstore.’ It’s important that it’s black-owned, but I made sure to have books not only for people of color but for people with disabilities, LGBTQ communities and the older generation.”

Diverse reads are only a fraction of her efforts toward inclusion.

Setting up shop in a gentrifying neighborhood, Santos says she aimed to both reflect the community and celebrate its changing landscape in her business design.

"Books can empower us. The area is gentrifying and a lot of us feel helpless, defenseless. The Lit. Bar gives new hope."

Graffiti art on the brick exterior depicting a young girl with spray paint cans writing, “reach the world but touch the hood first,” is inches away from a “bookstore & chill” sign. Inside, community members helped decorate wall murals and dozens of books donated by locals make up a wine bar.

Santos says she's received some backlash from locals who see her business as fueling gentrification but she credits the community with helping her dream become a reality.

She started a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo last year, which surpassed her goal of $100,000 in just five weeks.

"I literally lit my life on fire to make this happen" 

Noëlle Santos, The Lit. Bar

Much of The Lit. Bar is also a reflection of her own experience.

She began her journey to opening The Lit. Bar nearly five years ago, after never having set foot in an independent bookstore herself. In 2018, Santos uprooted her life, quitting her HR job on Wall Street and ending an eight-year relationship to pursue her dream.

"I literally lit my life on fire to make this happen," she says.

Santos grew up in Soundview, where the nearest bookstore was a 50-minute drive away.

Her love of literature started as a child, where her mother filled her home with fantasy fiction novels and her stepfather supplied the more literal reads. She got her books from "the streets," she says, vendors who sold on sidewalks and out of the trunks of their cars under the 6 train platform.

Now, at least a quarter of The Lit. Bar's backlist titles are from her personal collection of favorites. Her current favorite: Elizabeth Acevedo's "With the Fire on High."

Though proud to be bringing books to the Bronx, Santos says she's not satisfied with The Lit. Bar being the only general interest bookstore and tries not to brand herself as such.

"We need a used bookstore. We need a children's bookstore. We need a lending library. We need to support the libraries we already have. There's room for so many more models."

IF YOU GO: The Lit. Bar is located at 131 Alexander Ave. Visit thelitbar.com for more information.

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