Coming Home to La Casa Azul

Aurora Anaya-Cerda is a shining example of the drive and dedication to community that defines the indie booksellers we so admire and strive to celebrate. Determined to provide East Harlem with a literary focal point of its own, Anaya-Cerda launched a ’40K in 40 Days’ campaign  with the goal of raising the funds necessary to make La Casa Azul Bookstore, her online shop, into a bricks-and mortar reality. Her efforts have been met with overwhelming support from the bookselling world, the media and her local community and have brought her one step closer to realizing her dream. Read on to find out what motivates this self-described first generation Chicana and what’s next for La Casa Azul, our November “Indie Bookseller That Rocks Our World.”

Atticus Books: Part of the unique character of La Casa Azul is your commitment to sharing and supporting the work of Latino authors. How integral is this commitment to the mission of the bookstore? Who are some of your favorite Latino writers right now?

Aurora Anaya-Cerda: As an artist, educator, and entrepreneur, La Casa Azul Bookstore is a reflection of who I am and the goals that I have to feature Latino/Chicano writers. Chicano literature was critical in my own education and identity. Growing up, I was an avid reader, but it wasn’t until I discovered Chicano writers that I connected to the stories and began seeking out more books that reflected my identity and experience. By then I was already in high school and I wished I had read them earlier! La Casa Azul Bookstore will be that place for adults and especially for youth, because reading about your history and your culture should not have to be something you discover in high school or during college courses.

Some of my favorite authors right now are Esmeralda Santiago, Sergio Troncoso, Toni Plummer and Peggy Robles Alvarado.

Atticus: What makes East Harlem an ideal spot for a new independent bookstore?

Aurora: East Harlem is rich with cultural institutions that are part of Museum Mile and is home to cultural centers like Taller Boricua. Murals and mosaic pieces cover walls and galleries offer a variety of visual art shows for visitors to enjoy. That is what attracted me to the neighborhood and that is why a bookstore is the perfect fit, adding the literary arts to an already culturally rich neighborhood.

Atticus: On your fundraising page, you mention the concept of placemaking. What does this mean and what role will it play in the mission and design of the store?

Aurora: La Casa Azul Bookstore aims to create a business that is much more than your average retail store by being the literature hub in East Harlem. In addition to hosting book clubs, author signings and story times for children, we will serve as a community meeting space. We will continue to work with area schools and nonprofits to promote literacy in the East Harlem community.

I realize now that going with Plan B was the best thing that could have happened…

Atticus: It’s getting more and more common for hopeful booksellers to begin with an online store and then, when possible, transition into a bricks-and-mortar presence. What appealed to you about this mode of operation? Would you recommend it to others?

Aurora: The decision to launch an online store was plan B. Plan A was to open the store, and then have the online presence to complement it. But it was 2008, and banks were not lending money, and I could not afford a commercial space.

I realize now that going with Plan B was the best thing that could have happened because the website set a platform for me and I have been able to develop an audience. In addition to working in bookstores, having my own online business has been a great way to stay on the pulse of the publishing world. I definitely recommend this method to others, especially before you take the leap to open a store and make a larger investment.

Once we identify the commercial space we will look to our audience and neighbors for feedback on what programs and classes they would like to see, and take advantage of the skills and talent of our supporters by giving them an opportunity to partner with La Casa Azul Bookstore.

My fear was not being ready for what is ahead, but every time I walk into a bookstore, that feeling melts away–in a bookstore, I feel at home.

Atticus: Other than raising the necessary funds, what has been the greatest hurdle or fear you’ve had to overcome throughout this process?

Aurora: I’m the type of person who will formulate a plan and review it several times it before making a major decision. Which is why it has taken years to get to this point in the bookstore’s ‘life.’ Since 2001 I have worked and volunteered in five bookstores, taken business classes, attended bookselling school, and travelled the country meeting with booksellers, studying diverse business models.

My fear was not being ready for what is ahead, but every time I walk into a bookstore, that feeling melts away–in a bookstore, I feel at home.

Atticus: So far, you’ve raised just over $2,000 of the $40,000 necessary to make this dream come true. How confident are you that you’ll reach the finish line, so to speak?

Aurora: Due to popular demand, IndieGogo extended the campaign until Monday October 31, 11:59 PST.
In addition to the online contributions, I have also received direct contributions from supporters–so even if we are shy of $40,000 by the time the campaign is over, I consider this campaign a success.

[Update: Since the time of the interview, the campaign has ended, having raised $36,359.00. Anaya-Cerda is actively searching for a commercial space for the store.]

The ‘40K in 40 days’ campaign received media attention from NBC News, New York Daily News, Huffington Post, El Diario La Prensa, CUNY TV, and blogs nationwide. More than 220 people have contributed to the campaign and become part of the Founder’s Circle, with contributions from across the country, England and Australia.

The response from the community has been incredibly positive and supportive. Many contributors can’t wait to have an independent bookstore in their neighborhood and have already offered to volunteer at the store. Book lovers, teachers, and authors are waiting for the store to open.

Atticus:If you’re able to accomplish just one thing through the opening of La Casa Azul in East Harlem, what would you hope for?

Aurora: I would hope that people would do what makes them happy–to enjoy the journey, and know that even if it takes years to accomplish your dream, it is all worth it.





Lead Photo Source: Huffington Post by Johnny Ramos

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