The Harlem Bookstore on a Mission

Tucked away in East Harlem, Aurora Anaya-Cerda’s nearly 3-year-old shop attracts an eclectic array of patrons, including Bookshopparents who browse the gallery space for children’s illustrations, lawyers who congregate to discuss immigration policy and local car wash workers who hold meetings to chat about labor practices. Every month, Anaya-Cerda hosts around 15 different events. Oh, and she sells books too.

Here at La Casa Azul Bookstore, which is so well known for its collection of Latino literature that it has drawn Junot Díaz and Sandra Cisneros for special book readings, the innovative mix of offerings has brought in a growing group of customers and helped Anaya-Cerda gain national attention. The White House has even honored her with an award that recognizes community-oriented entrepreneurs. “You can’t walk into another bookstore and see a movie screen hosting an independent film festival, but those are things that have happened at La Casa Azul,” says Anaya-Cerda.

As the $27 billion American book industry vies for people’s attention in this digital age while trying to stem the closure of both independent shops and major retailers — R.I.P., Borders — some of its entrepreneurs are finding a bright spot among Latino readers. Baker & Taylor, a major nationwide book distributor, which wouldn’t release exact figures, has seen sales of its Spanish titles steadily climb since 2013. Meanwhile, a study from Northwestern University has found that 84 percent of Latino parents with young children prefer to give their kids a book before bed rather than a toy or a computer.

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By Alexia Nader | May 20, 2015

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