It's Lit! New Bookstore Ignites Bronx Neighborhood

The Lit Bar is the first bookstore in years in the Bronx, and its owner has big plans for her business and the community.

Photo credit: Vanessa Willoughby

On National Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday, a crowd gathered in front of the Lit Bar on Alexander Avenue in the Bronx, awaiting the grand opening of its first general-interest bookstore since the closure of its Barnes & Noble in 2016. A reflection of its vibrant community and the significance of the day's event, the group included eager patrons—young and old, avid bookworms and casual readers—as well as Bronx Chamber of Commerce president Lisa Sorin and Oren Teicher, former CEO of the American Booksellers Association.

“We are more than just sneaker stores…we support the arts,” The Lit Bar owner and Bronx native Noëlle Santos said during an impassioned ribbon-cutting speech.

The 32-year-old Santos wants The Lit Bar to serve the community whose roughly 1.5 million people were without a bookstore for three years, but she also hopes that the store will be a multifaceted space where people can connect through the arts.

“The Bronx is no longer burning except with the desire to read, we thrive,” Santos told the crowd as she stood near the storefront artwork of a young girl donning Afro-puff pigtails below the mantra, “Reach the World but Touch the Hood First.” 

The grand opening was just one highlight of a series of events, which end on Tuesday with a conversation between Santos and author and Forbes contributor Sara Bliss about the former’s career journey.

The seeds of the project can be traced to 2016 when Barnes & Noble shuttered its doors despite community pushback, including a Change.org petition to keep the store open. Santos—a graduate of Lehman College’s undergraduate and graduate programs in business administration/accounting and business administration and human resources management, respectively—took action. She created a plan, raised money by placing second in the NYPL’s StartUP! Business Plan competition and launching successful crowdsourcing campaigns and, Saturday, residents showed up to celebrate her success and the contribution to the community.

“It’s great that it’s in the South Bronx,” said John Ruiz, 24. He also praised the mission of Santos’s endeavor, the “simple” yet radical idea of being able to go to a “bookstore and chill.”

Lorraine Valevio, 25, who grew up in the Bronx, learned about the store through social media and her daughter’s school. She noted that it was difficult to find representation in literature, namely people who looked like her. She wanted to pick up some books for her daughter and would be “coming back regularly,” she said.

The store’s selection feature familiar authors such as Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte but also makes a point to spotlight the voices of authors often marginalized within mainstream publishing. Under the “Classics” section, the aforementioned authors also sit alongside James Baldwin (Go Tell It on the Mountain), Sapphire (Push and The Kid), Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), Nikki Turner (A Hustler’s Wife), and Donald Goines (Black Girl Lost).

In the future, the store aims to provide author events, wine tastings, poetry slams, children’s storytime, and more.

“The answer to inclusion isn’t to further divide,” Santos said. “We will expand horizons beyond pages.”

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