We are not only avid readers but also booksellers with many years of book-selling/managerial experience. We value the importance of promoting literacy and have started this mission to open a second bookstore in our borough.
Who is behind The Queens Bookshop?
Vina Castillo: 4 years of book-selling/managerial experience (Barnes & Noble). BA in Literature and Publishing.
Natalie Noboa: 5 years of book-selling/managerial experience (Books-A-Million, Borders, Barnes & Noble).
Holly Nikodem: 2 years as bookstore manager (Barnes & Noble), 10 years in retail management with experience in event planning and niche markets.
With the closing of Barnes and Noble, The Queens Bookshop will the second bookshop in Queens—Astoria Bookstore being the first, why do you think that is?
Vina: Prior to launching this initiative, I read this article last year by the NY Daily News, Lack of Local Bookstore Choices in Queens. It was written in 2010, before B&N made the decision to close their Queens locations. I believe the awareness has been there to some degree, it isn’t until now where the absence is so stark and obvious that the community is realizing it is up to them to have a voice and make a change.
Holly: To be honest, we’re just as surprised as anyone else that there isn’t a larger network of independent general bookstores throughout Queens. Up until recently there was that overarching big box presence from Barnes & Noble in addition to a strong public library system. Consumers and entrepreneurs probably didn’t notice how few general purpose bookstores there really were. Without the large brand name in the neighborhoods it’s become clear there was very little else out there.
Natalie: Holly is definitely right. Even I didn’t notice just how starved Queens was for bookstores until all the Barnes & Noble left the borough! It baffles me even now, that in a borough with literally millions of people, there’s only the Astoria Bookshop and a handful of used bookstores.
Your Kickstarter campaign is slated to go up at the end of April. How is it going? Can you share any details of the perks you will be offering?
Vina: Very very very excited about our Kickstarter! Our perks will be very bookish, we are fortunate enough to have authors (some from Queens) who are offering to donate their work. We are planning a few events throughout our campaign, starting April 30th in honor of Independent Bookstore Day. It will be a very fun day at the Russell Sage playground [in Forest Hills], filled with activities! We plan to share all the details soon!
Natalie: First of all, it’s going to be awesome and we’re going to have a lot of (what I think are) cool perks! We’re going to appeal to a lot of different price points, so there will definitely be something for everyone. Also, it’s not just going to be physical items, but experiences and opportunities too! Stay tuned because everything else about our perks is still very hush hush!
We love that you pooled the community for suggestions. We think that is vital in prepping for any campaign—to hear feedback from those you will soon serve. How important is that for you three?
Vina: From the start we wanted to include the community as much as possible, hence our mission statement being “a community effort to bring books back to Queens.” It isn’t only important and imperative to have the community on board, but to witness their excitement and support has been the best part of all of this. We have received an overwhelming number of emails of people of all ages offering to help us and lend a hand. It is encouraging to know they want a bookstore as much as we do.
Beyond being a place to sell books, making sure our bookshop is a community space is very important to us. We want to host events and be a place that could bring people together. Making sure the community is involved every step of the way is the best way to start building that sense of ownership and togetherness we hope to see.
Natalie: Recently, someone asked us what our core values were for this initiative – what would we center all of our work around? For me, the most important value I can think of is community. Without the support and encouragement from everyone on social media, the kind words we receive to our email inbox, and the well wishes from family, friends, and strangers on the street, we might not have made it this far. It is their support for us that make us keep pushing to make this dream of ours a reality. It’s the kindness that people have shown us that confirms our desire to give the community the bookstore they need and truly want.
In the age of tech, social media, and instant access to anything and everything, bookstores personally helps slow us down in a good way. How do books play a role in each of your everyday lives?
Vina: Books have played a starring role in my life. I moved a lot, up until starting college, and books were my constant (Lost reference anyone?) and kept me grounded. Not only have I always been an avid reader but I steered my career choices towards the book industry by majoring in English Literature and Book Publishing. As Holly states below, I also always carry a book with me – a must for my long commute every day to work.
Holly: I carry a book with me everywhere. Even if I’m not currently reading anything and I’m between books, I still have one. It’s a comfort. Growing up, I was the quiet bookish kid in the corner. Books were part of my identity (they still are). Nowadays I’ve turned to books more for a sense of connection than just entertainment. My favorite thing to do in recent years is start micro book clubs. I’ll agree to read a book with one other person. The entire process, from choosing the book to comparing insights as we go, has brought me closer to a lot of people.
Natalie: For me, books are an adventure and an escape. Growing up wasn’t the easiest thing and sometimes I just got tired of being me (I’m sure someone can relate). But when I would read a book, I didn’t have to be me. I could be anyone I wanted, in any place, during any time period, or in any universe. I have traveled to hundreds of places and I did it all from the corner of my bed, on my mother’s couch, or sitting on the bus going to school.
These days, I don’t read just to get out of my own head. I read because it makes it easier for me to understand others, to be able to see things from multiple perspectives, and view the world in more than just “my” way.
What are your Top 3 Favorite books/authors?
Vina: So tough to pick just three!
- Top favorite is “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer. It is the book I always recommend, it has worked as a catalyst in bringing me closer to my siblings (who couldn’t relate to my love for reading until they read this book), it also started some of my dearest friendships/relationships.
- A very recent favorite is “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara – one of the most emotionally draining books I have ever read, but darn it – it’s beautifully written.
- Lastly, an author whose body of work I admire and thoroughly enjoy is Donna Tartt.
Holly: Yikes, the dreaded favorite book question…
- My standard answer is “House of Leaves” by Mark Danielewski because it was the first time I’d encountered a frame narrative and story structure quite like it.
- I also really loved “Brave New World“ by Aldous Huxley. Again, it was the first time a book’s theme practically slapped me across the face (I really should read it again one of these days).
- Finally, I’m going to steal Vina’s idea and lean toward an author over a specific book: Walter Moers. His books are utterly surreal and they are meticulously illustrated. If you like fantasy and universe building he’s a treat.
- I’m currently obsessed with the “Until the End of the World” series by Sarah Lyons Fleming. It’s a zombie apocalypse series that actually starts in Brooklyn that I think are wildly underrated! I’ve reread it a few times already and I only discovered it within the 12 months.
- I also love “Magical Thinking” by Augusten Burroughs (he has a new book, Lust and Wonder, that I’m really looking forward to).
- I’m also a huge fan of Holly Black! I love how she mixes fantasy into very real and concrete settings.