Noelle Santos is determined to bring her dual purposed vision of an indie bookstore and wine bar, ingeniously named The Lit. Bar, to the Bronx, a New York borough without one single bookstore. “Lit like literature. Lit like drunk. Lit with passion to kill stigmas overdue to be debunked,” she says of her latest undertaking.
At the start of the year, 1.5 million locals were left bare of hardcovers after a Barnes & Noble in the Bay Plaza Shopping Center closed its doors. Santos, who is Afro-Puerto Rican, stood with 3,000 Bronxites protesting the closing of the Barnes & Noble – and then hit the ground running toward uplifting her community. She structured her blueprint and placed second in the New York Public Library StartUP! Business Plan Competition, earning $7,500. Today, she has raised more than $71,000 toward her $100,000 goal via Indiegogo. She is optimistic and requests that “you open your hearts to help us show the world what many fail to see: that the Bronx is no longer burning … except with desire to read.”
We caught up with the Inspiring Latina, where she shared her vision, her activism and a message for Afro-Latinas.
The petition to stop Barnes & Noble from closing is what sparked the fire for you to establish The Lit. Bar, correct?
The only general-interest Bronx bookstore was in jeopardy. I saw the petition online that made the owners extend the bookstore lease for two more years. That exasperated me – I’ve been working on establishing The Lit. Bar since. Our Barnes & Noble closed this past New Year’s Eve.
What is the vision of your bookstore?
This is going to be a true community space. It will bless the borough. Indies are thriving and Barnes & Noble is not because we cater to our niche markets. We may be in competition with Amazon.com; however, we offer something Amazon can’t: an experience. Our communities are being gentrified, but I want to help preserve Bronx culture, as much as I can. I want us to have a safe space in the South Bronx to share dialogue, especially in this political climate.
What is your message to other Afro-Latinas, or women as a whole?
It’s all about women supporting women. Our culture is such an advantage. My mother is Puerto Rican. People ask me, “What are your challenges as a Black woman?” But I do not try to simulate – I am just myself. The more authentic I am, the more people I attract. Latinas just have a natural sexy going for us. [Laughs]
I want to see more women of color proud of themselves. We don’t need to assemble ourselves to reflect other people’s culture because we bring something special to the table. A lot of the press I connect with finds me being Afro-Latina so interesting. I’m completely comfortable with my heritage, it makes me stand out from the pack.
You’re an HR professional by day but write online. It’s impressive. I identify with your dream of graffiti meets chandelier. Walk us through your bookstore.
You’re what we call a sophisti-ratchet. [Laughs] I want my wine bar to be made of books with comfortable seating that invites long stays. I see social drinking and introverted readings. At Barnes & Noble, there is nowhere you can hideaway. It’s not very warm. Sometimes I’ll just sit on the floor in there, and the security tells me I am a fire hazard.
The Lit. Bar will feel like home. There will be areas for communal groups to meet, like my book club the Readers & Shakers. The book club is for girlfriends going places, both literary and literally. It’s accessible – I don’t want locals to feel like they can’t afford their book club.
Nice. Where will your activism take you in 2017?
You know, a lot of people call me that and it wasn’t my plan – I’m an unintentional activist. [Laughs] No matter what I have to do, my store will be open this year! I will lose these 15 pounds I gained because entrepreneurship is so fattening. [Laughs]
What do you want people to know about you?
That I am bad and boujee. I am South Bronx savvy, and I catch a lot of flack. People say this concept of bringing books and wine to the Bronx is really white. I reject that! I know a lot of people from the Bronx, who are like me. The media only highlights negative Bronx activities to the public. We often measure our success by how far away we get from the Bronx. I want to change that narrative. I challenge other Bronxites to stay here and develop our own.
I used to be one of them. I was planning to move to Long Island City to have grass and a better quality of life. Still, I felt like a coward leaving The Bronx in no better condition then while here. So, I stayed and that is what people need to know. We exist. We have intellectuals, and there is no shame in being classy from the Bronx. If we commit to being the change we want to see, our neighborhood will have things that serve us. If we leave it to politicians, we’re never going to have anything.
Get Involved and Support The Lit. Bar here.