Where Have All The Books Gone?
On December 30th, 2016, Barnes and Nobles closed the doors of its Bay Plaza location forever. Bronx residents urged the property owners and politicians not to close what was the only book store left in the borough, but after expanding its lease for another two years after 2014, the property became too expensive for the owners to keep it open. Many local bookstores have closed during the years, making it difficult for children to build their own libraries at home. Most residents live too far to take public transportation to Manhattan. Now a huge question remains; how will kids gain access to books without a store?
There are those who use the New York Public Library branches to borrow books, movies, and even music; however, nothing compares to having your own library at home. A librarian at the Highbridge branch says, “it’s sad to see a child return a book they enjoyed. Some even check out the book again. I do not understand why the local bookstores closed when there is a high demand for physical books.” Physical books bring a better reading experience to younger children, as they can fully enjoy the illustrations and text.
One of the reasons local bookstores have closed their doors is due to high rent prices. Gentrification in The Bronx has become a huge issue as higher rents have forced low income families to relocate, and local business owners to shut down their shops. The Bay Plaza mall is an example. New chain retailers have opened up alongside JC Penny, Kmart, and the AMC theater. Barnes and Noble will be replaced by Saks On Fifth, which many Bronx residents admit sells expensive merchandise to a community that cannot afford it.
For a while, the rise of ebooks were also to blame after Borders declared bankruptcy in 2011. Yet, a recent study shows that ebook sales have plummeted in the past few years. People still prefer physical books, or juggle both to enjoy a great novel. Amazon is opening up brick- and- mortar bookstores to appeal to readers who enjoy physical copies of books, yet USA Today does not believe Amazon will be part of the independent bookstore problem the Bronx is lacking, at least for now “The Amazon book stores continue to carry a relatively small number of books compared to traditional bookstores. For a serious reader who wants to browse, they’re not very satisfying.” However, USA Today also states that Amazon bookstores do carry unique titles, mostly from self publishers, which is the only bright side for the brick- and -mortar facility.
While opening up a physical bookstore will alleviate some issues, it will do nothing to help the children of the Bronx for the Amazon location will open in Manhattan. Barnes and Noble was a convenient place not only to buy books, but for children to do their homework, have a bite to eat, and enjoy storytime or the employees’ various events.
Noelle Santos wants to change all of this. After Barnes and Noble closed it doors in Bay Plaza, Santos took it upon herself to bring a bookstore back in the borough. She is calling it the Lit Bar. The bookstore will be a learning environment to kids, while offering a wine bar for adults.
Santos hopes The Lit Bar will be the solution to the lack of bookstores in The Bronx, and how the borough is perceived. She tells Forbes: “The Bronx needs a bookstore. One, we need access to literature… And two, we need to build a culture of self worth.” Santos refers to The Bronx being constantly overlooked by politicians as a place where people deserve books, despite children’s literacy levels increasing in New York State exams. Another aspect of the literary world that Santos is trying to change is the publishing industry. Writers of color have a harder time getting published than white writers, and Santos will display more books written by minorities once the store opens later this year.
Although the Lit Bar is a bright light for The Bronx, more local bookstores are needed. The New York Public Library and Scholastic book fairs are not enough to sustain the love of reading going in different communities. There is something special about owning your own home library that the children of The Bronx are missing out on. Let us hope the Lit Bar is the beginning of resurrecting independent bookstores.