On December 31, 2016, the Barnes and Noble of Bay Plaza in The Bronx closed its doors to the public leaving the borough community without a bookstore. Many community members including Noëlle Santos, were devastated at this news. The Bronx, once home to Edgar Allan Poe, the acclaimed American writer and poet, had become a bookstore desert. Compounded with the urgent economic, educational, and environmental challenges that disproportionally affect the borough’s residents, the Bronx was galvanized together by Santos’ crowdfunding campaign, Let’s Bring a Goddamn Bookstore to the Bronx, which launched to national acclaim.
Fast forward to April 27, 2019 and $170,000 later, The Lit. Bar opened its doors for the first time in Mott Haven this past week in celebration of National Independent Bookstore Day. Although one bookstore in the entire borough of the Bronx is certainly not enough to serve the nearly 1.5 million residents, the opening of The Lit. Bar was still noteworthy.
The Lit. Bar is not your average bookstore, in fact there’s actually a wine bar located inside. Owner Noëlle Santos came up with the idea to add a wine bar to the store. She tells us, “I’m thinking about innovation. I want to be innovative. I want to be fun. I want this to be a place not just to come and buy books off of a shelf but, for this to be a communal place where we can be neighbors, we can talk, and connect over literature and drinks,” she says. Santos’ goal for The Lit. Bar is not only to encourage literary discussions and passions, but also to “increase intellectual visibility in the Bronx.”
The books on these shelves are all part of the larger collection that Noëlle Santos has spent over a year curating. When asked to recommend a book, she says the shelves are her personal library — each book is one of her favorites ranging from classics to contemporary literature. Other genres include LGBTQ, Thriller, Mystery, and Bronx Tales.
The Lit. Bar’s simplistic architecture with modern themes allows for an open space to focus on the literature and the people around you. The white walls act as a canvas for exposed brick with trees seeping out from the walls, and an intimate mural portrait of a young woman reading on the wall. Through the design of the building, it is evident that Santos and her team was inspired the demographic of the area the bookstore would be located in. The mural is meant to be representative of the women of the area and the books on the shelves “emphasize local interest,” including genres focused on the Latina, African-American, and LGBTQ communities.
The week following the opening of The Lit. Bar, a series of events were hosted from happy hour to visits from well-known authors. Children’s book author Ty Allan Jackson signed copies of his popular book, “Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire” for the Kiddie Lit’r Turnup event. The following night, Noëlle hosted a discussion about the making of The Lit. Bar with New York Times best-selling author, Sara Bliss.
The opening of The Lit. Bar on 131 Alexander Avenue, is an exciting accomplishment for The Bronx. Not only is this the first independent bookstore but, currently the only bookstore in the Bronx.