What challenges did you face in your transition from HR to a bookstore owner?
One of the biggest challenges was that many gatekeepers in banking, real estate, and even some local politicians didn't believe that The Bronx was a viable market for a bookstore. This made it difficult to secure the financing and real estate necessary to open The Lit. Bar. Another challenge I faced was balancing my full-time job with the physically and mentally taxing startup demands. I worked up until the day my construction started and it took almost a full year to complete. It was a challenging journey, and still is, but this labor of love has all been worth it.
How has your community been a part of your journey?
From the very beginning, they showed up for me by contributing to my crowdfunding campaign and helping to make my dream a reality. Community members generously volunteered their time to make my pop-up shops a success. Even during the build-out of the store, the community was involved, voting on design choices, and complete strangers brought me dinner as I worked around the clock. Our neighboring businesses and landlord also played a crucial role by educating me on bar equipment, construction, licensing, and operations.In 2020, New York City was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic and the country's racial reckoning, and The Bronx was at the heart of it all. Despite such a challenging time, the community rallied behind us and ensured that we could survive the store closure and protests and continue serving them.
What have been some of your favorite accomplishments with The Lit. Bar?
While I was interviewing President Obama, I asked him to throw up the “X” for The Bronx, and he did it! It was at that moment that I felt like I made it. JLo, Carmelo Anthony, Mary J. Blige, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Fat Joe, Slick Rick, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Alfre Woodard, and more have all graced us with their presence. These opportunities excite me not only for the exposure and clout they bring, but also because connecting pop culture and literature helps me win over some of our young reluctant readers. We’re exposing them to careers in the book industry and inspiring them to stay and invest in their own community.
Tell us a bit about your design choices for the shoes.
When I first announced The Lit. Bar’s concept, a lot of the responses I received were “books and wine? That is so white”. I know where those internalized sentiments come from, so I wanted to show my community that books and wine are not reserved for white people. We too deserve nice things in our community and we can do so while preserving the culture that already exists here. This inspired the store’s theme of graffiti and chandeliers to pay homage to the art form born here with a touch of sophistication. I carried that theme onto the shoes.
Have you always been into poetry? What inspired your poem that we see on the back of your shirt? Hip-hop is poetry, so yes.I entered a business plan competition and rapped my pitch for a little razzle-dazzle (of course, I won). Those lit barz would later become the lyrics for the video of my crowdfunding campaign (I won that too). They state our mission and our ethos, and I thought it would be dope to keep them front and center on the t-shirt – emphasizing the lines that evoke emotion in our red wine brand color.
How does it feel to have your very own capsule with Vans x Kith?
I bet the world expected me to write a book before I designed apparel. So did I. I couldn’t dream of a more special way to bring in National Indie Bookstore Day and The Lit. Bar’s 4-year anniversary.It is truly an honor to have my very own capsule with such an iconic brand like Vans and create alongside a progressive and innovative brand like Kith. It’s a brilliant partnership and I am so grateful for the opportunity to showcase The Lit. Bar and The Bronx on a larger platform. Thank you for seeing us! This partnership is not just about fashion, but about shining a light on minority-owned businesses and amplifying our voices. I hope this collaboration will inspire others to support and uplift their own communities.
Do you have more planned for The Lit. Bar?
I can't speak about my future plans just yet, but here’s a hint: I believe that media is the future of retail.
Where can we find you?
131 Alexander Avenue in the South Bronx and everywhere @thelitbar. You can find me making bossy & bookish commentary and doing hoodrat things with my friends @1st.Noelle on Instagram.