Survival Of The Lit-est: Noëlle Santos Is Not Backing Down
Image Courtesy of The Lit. Bar

HEAR Noëlle’s full (and inspiring!) UnBossed episode here:

Pandemic be damned, The Lit. Bar owner Noëlle Santos has no intention of slowing down. In recent months, the 33-year-old entrepreneur has set a precedent for what it means to run a business, during a global crisis, in an industry that was already in shambles.

Her independently-owned bookstore, The Lit. Bar, is the only store of its kind in The Bronx—a community of more than 1 million residents. The best part? It is owned and operated by a young visionary Afro-Latina who never even dreamt of owning a business let alone a bookstore.

“This was not on my radar as a career at all. I was doing exactly what I studied. In 2014, I was a human resources director and I worked for an IT firm in Tribeca making six-figures,” Santos says to UnBossed host Marquita Harris.

In 2014 Santos saw a Facebook post announcing that Barnes and Noble, the only bookstore in The Bronx at that time, would be closing up shop for good. There was also a petition floating around to save the major retailer from shuttering. That news did not bode well with this well-read Black girl.

“So I signed the petition, I got some friends to sign it because I lived at that Barnes & Noble. And I didn’t feel better.  I was disgusted knowing that there was just one bookstore at the time. So that petition galvanized the property owners and Barnes & Noble and the politicians, they came to an agreement that they would extend the lease two years. So in my mind, I was like, ‘Okay, that means I have two years to open a bookstore.‘ I took responsibility for it.”

And so her journey, which she candidly details on the latest episode of UnBossed podcast, began…

In 2019 The Lit. Bar opened to wild acclaim and success. Though a year later, amid the coronavirus outbreak and recent civil uprisings, Santos couldn’t begin to prepare for the road ahead. Spoiler: she survived, but it’s been a harrowing journey.

Noëlle Santos, proprietress of The Lit Bar, the only bookstore in The Bronx. She is seated on a green chair next to a table with stacks of books.

Listen to the full episode to hear Noëlle discuss…

…HOW DETERMINED SHE WAS TO OPEN THE LIT BAR

“I spent two and a half years working for free at other bookstores, I would take off my suit after I left, get on the train at Wall Street and go to Brooklyn, go to the bookstores in SoHo and ask them, the owners, ‘Can I work for free?'”

…WHY YOU HAVE TO BE TRUE TO YOURSELF, ESPECIALLY IN BUSINESS

“So the Barnes & Noble announces they’re closing, they close on New Years Eve of 2016, and I put together the whole campaign within about two weeks or so. The Indiegogo [campaign] was called ‘Let’s Bring a Gotdamn Bookstore to the Bronx.’ I got some flack behind it but I stuck with it because I wanted people to know what they were getting. If you’re offended by that, you’re not going to have a good time in my store.”

…HOW LEARNING ABOUT BOOKSTORES OPENED HER EYES

“Books were my tool to economic mobility, my form of entertainment growing up. I felt like it was an atrocity to take that tool away from the youth that are coming up behind me. Books were my window outside of my little five-block radius in Soundview. So I started looking at myself as a coward because up to that point I had measured my success by how far I can get away from the Bronx.”

Want to listen to Noëlle’s entire story? Say less. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or anywhere you listen to podcasts. And don’t forget to follow @ESSENCEpodcasts on Instagram!

TOPICS: