For centuries, immigrants and indigenous peoples have converged in New Mexico, nurturing one of the most unique communities in the country. “New Mexico is truly of the heart of Mother Earth, a wonderful and diverse place,” says writer Denise Chávez, owner of the Casa Camino Real Book Store & Art Gallery in Las Cruces, a town at the historic crossroads between the U.S. and Mexico.
The shelves at Casa Camino Real embody the region’s diversity, featuring books by Native Americans, settler families, Latin American immigrants, Chicano leaders, regional authors, and world literature. The bookstore’s most popular titles in 2018 also reflect this spirit: When a Woman Rises by Christine Eber and Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya.
At Winter Institute, Chávez, who is a member of the ABA advisory council’s diversity task force, is leading a “Books for the Journey” initiative to collect books for immigrants held at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tent city facility in nearby Tornillo, Tex. “American booksellers have embraced the healing power of books for all people,” Chávez says.
Three hours north of Los Cruces, Bookworks, in Albuquerque, is part of a vibrant cultural scene. The 34-year-old bookstore hosts more than 400 events a year and saw sales jump 30% during last year’s Small Business Saturday compared to 2017’s. “This is a great place to be an entrepreneur and an independent business owner,” Bookworks marketing and events manager Amanda Sutton says. Sutton points out that Mayor Tim Keller declared December “Buy Local Month” and challenged residents to spend $35 at local retailers.
Bookworks, which was founded by Nancy Rutland in 1984 and is now co-owned by Danielle Foster and Wyatt Wegryzn, is part of a statewide trend. According to a November report from Frontier Business, almost 52% of New Mexico businesses are female-owned—the highest percentage in the country. Sutton, who has a six-month-old daughter, regularly brings her to the store when she works. “That’s just a really special thing about our industry,” Sutton says. “It really does support people and their families. Our customers love coming in to see my daughter. She’s become our bookstore baby.”
In nearby Santa Fe, 25-year-old Garcia Street Books cultivates a smaller but intensely artistic scene. Jean Devine, who purchased the store in June 2017, describes it as “very unique” in terms of its offerings and its longevity. “The store has its own personhood in the community,” Devine says
The store focuses on art books and literary fiction and nonfiction. Garcia Street’s bestsellers last year ranged from photographer Jimmy Nelson’s oversize collection Jimmy Nelson Homage to Humanity, with a $125 cover price, to Annie Leibovitz at Work by Annie Leibovitz; The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson; and There There by Tommy Orange.
In addition to bookstores, Santa Fe is home to a number of inspirational writers, including Jen Sincero (You Are a Badass), Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones), and Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way). “People call this ‘the Land of Enchantment,’ ” Devine says, reflecting on New Mexico’s cultural history. “All of this creativity, openness, and sharing is perfect for writers and artists. People want to feel it, taste it, touch it. So it makes sense that this would be a good place for bookstores.”