Rueben Martinez, who opened his first Santa Ana bookshop in 1975 and initially stocked it with books purchased in Tijuana for Spanish-speaking customers, has found a new home on the campus of Chapman University in Orange, California as Liberia Martinez de Chapman University. The grand opening will be held on October 27, 2012.
The non-profit bookstore and educational center with a focus on learning and literacy presently stocks 7,000 books, all of which Martinez, 72, donated from the contents of his last location on Santa Ana’s Main Street. Chapman’s College of Educational Studies will raise funds to cover the costs of operating Libreria Martinez, relying on sales, grants, and donations. In the past, Martinez’s store garnered international acclaim and attracted iconic Latino authors such as Jorge Ramos, Carlos Fuentes, and Sandra Cisneros. “It is a matter of social entrepreneurship,” said Don Cardinal, dean of the College of Educational Studies who spearheaded the Libreria idea. “For this initiative to work, it must be a community effort. We have faith that this community will support the effort, and donors will see the value of a community business helping support the needs of the local community.”
Martinez was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2004 and could have closed his Libreria and retired then, but chose not to. “I’ve always wanted families to read,” said Martinez. “If they read today, they’re going to become good writers when they enter college.”
The university approached Martinez, who was already a popular figure on campus who helped to recruit first-generation Latino students, about moving his store to the university. “They knew that I was losing money, that I was putting my savings into it,” Martinez said. “It was costing me close to $5,000 a month [to keep the store going]. It hurt me to write a check.” Cardinal’s offer to partner with Martinez, which took 18 months to be approved by Chapman’s board of directors, was a welcome relief to the bookseller, who hadn’t made any money in the store for three years.
In addition to selling books, Libreria Martinez de Chapman will hold English classes for adults, provide laptops to use in computer classes, and have a staff member from Chapman’s financial aid department on hand to help parents find financial aid for their kids as they apply to colleges. The store will also sell trade bestsellers and magazines in addition to the Latino literature it has always been known for. Martinez will continue his visits to schools and give talks that encourage students to “read, write, and have a vision,” he said. “I’m excited about this. It’s like another chapter in my life. Who would ever think that at my age – 72 – I would still be working every day, doing the thing I enjoy doing? And now with Chapman University, it’s going to be many cabezas (heads) putting this together.”