After five years of studying business and bookselling and a successful FUNraiser in which she matched a $40,000 interest-free loan through IndieGoGo in October, 33-year-old Aurora Anaya-Cerda signed a lease to turn her three-year-old online bookstore, LaCasaAzulBookstore.com, into a bricks-and-mortar bilingual store in East Harlem’s Cultural Corridor on 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City. Named for artist Frida Kahlo’s “Blue House” in Mexico City, La Casa Azul Bookstore will sell new and used books, e-books, coffee, and locally-made art and gifts. It will offer literacy programs, writing classes, and author readings, and expects to open in the spring.
Anaya-Cerda, a volunteer at the Word Up pop-up bookstore in Manhattan, who first worked at Espresso Mi Cultura, a bookstore and gallery in Hollywood, Calif., during her senior year at UCLA, believes that her community is hungry for a bookstore like the one she envisions. “The mission of my store,” she says, “is educating children and providing bilingual books for children. It’s also about educating people on the importance of independents.” Her IndieGoGo campaign netted contributions from more than 430 people online, with another 80 people reaching out to her directly with checks.
In addition Anaya-Cerda says that she has received offers from East Harlem residents to help her paint and repair the space, as well as from an attorney who offered legal services pro bono. One particularly poignant note, reprinted on her blog (luchalibrosnyc.blogspot.com), came from 10-year-old Naylan and her twin brother Nolan. The pair offered to help with the bookstore in exchange for ice cream: “Congratulations on campaigning on your bookstore. Me and Nolan would like to volunteer on your bookstore. We would like to help you clean up the place when you close. But congrats on your big dream. It’s like you made a wish and it came true.”
Anaya-Cerda first became interested in opening a bookstore in El Barrio when she took a business class fives years ago and learned how to write a business plan. The following May she attended her first BEA; the next year she went to Prospective Booksellers School. And in 2008, she launched her online bookstore. In the intervening years she has produced more than 60 events in East Harlem with writers like Junot Diaz and Esmeralda Santiago and founded the East Harlem Children’s book Festival.
Despite the recession and the closing of Borders along with a number of independent bricks-and-mortar bookstores this year, Anaya-Cerda’s enthusiasm for a physical bookstore remains undiminished. “I’m aware of the bookstores that are closing,” she says. “And I’m looking at the stores that are opening like Janet Geddis’s Avid Bookshop. I look at her as someone doing a project the same as mine, but in Georgia. And I look to booksellers in New York like Sarah McNally and Jessica Stockton Bagnulo.”
Earlier this year Anaya-Cerda moved to the Bronx, which recently lost its last independent bookstore, Books in the Hood. To the question of whether she’ll open two bookstores, she says no. As for the original business plan, she says that she’s had to rewrite it a few times. When she first drew it up, e-books weren’t in the picture.