Three former Barnes & Noble coworkers have banded together to start Kew & Willow Books, a new independent bookstore slated to open in Kew Gardens in late September.
The store—the Kew in its title stands for Kew Gardens, while Willow is a Harry Potter reference—will be housed in a 700 square foot location on Lefferts Boulevard. It is largely being funded by a Kickstarter campaign which raised more than $72,000.
The plan to open a new bookstore began on New Year’s Eve in 2015. It was then that Vina Castillo, Natalie Noboa, and Holly Nikodem, who worked together at the Barnes & Noble in the Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills, began thinking about opening their own bookstore. The idea was propelled by word that their B&N (along with the chain's other stores in Queens) would close.
The three friends had worked together in Forest Hills for two years, but had moved on to other pursuits when they found out their B&N was closing. They lamented that, without the Forest Hills store, Queens would be left with only one bookstore: the Astoria Bookshop.
To get the project started they canvased other New York City independent stores—in particular, the Astoria Bookshop—for advice. In their spare time—all three have full time jobs separate from the bookstore—they started promoting the planned store through a newsletter and on social media.
After building community support, the trio launched the Queens Bookshop Initiative campaign on Kickstarter in April 2016. More than 800 people responded with contributions. The partners first looked for a space in Forest Hills, but were eventually drawn to Kew Gardens, which Nikodem said has a robust network of locally-supported neighborhood stores.
“The neighborhood is very proud of its local shops,” Nikodem said. A sneak preview of the store over a weekend in early August confirmed the support. The partners blocked off the rear of the unfinished store with a sheet, filled the first six feet of the new space with books and merchandise, and welcomed the community.
“We offered new books, used books, staff picks and merchandise like tote bags and people loved it,” Nikodem said.
Nikodem compared the new 700 sq. foot space to Word bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, which she said has "about the same amount of space.” Despite the small size of the Queens shop, she said customers can expect lots of in-store events—the store has movable fixtures allowing it to be reconfigured to accommodate readings and receptions. “We’re looking into local cafes and spaces if we need more space," Nikodem said.
Kew & Willow Books, she said, will also highlight local Queens authors; a section of the store will be dedicated to showcasing a rotation of homegrown writers. There will also be a “substantial kids section” and a robust offering of graphic novels. ("As many as we can get," Nikodem said, noting that she is a big comics fan.)
Nikodem called the sneak preview weekend in early August a "super success. People came from all over Queens, brought us flowers and champagne and told us how happy they were to have a bookstore.” The event, she said, "confirmed our decision to open the store.”