At the top of our “to do” list while in New York City for BookExpo this year was a visit to La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem. We first met the owner, Aurora Anaya-Cerda, in September of 2007 when she attended our intensive workshop retreat, Owning a Bookstore: The Business Essentials.  Even before the economy tumbled, resources for Aurora were scarce. But she never lost her enthusiasm and hope for her very own community-oriented bookstore.

Aurora Anaya Cerda, owner of La Casa Azul Bookstore

Aurora Anaya Cerda, owner of La Casa Azul Bookstore

Aurora was one of the first start-ups to pursue crowd funding. The effort not only brought forth a plethora of positive press, more than 500 people surfaced to help fund a bookstore for “El Barrio”. She doggedly pursued every opportunity for start-up grants, and was finally able to put the pieces in place to open her shop. Today, La Casa Azul Bookstore is one of several other woman-owned businesses on East 103rd Street. But opening a community bookstore wasn’t all that Aurora had in mind – she also launched the East Harlem Children’s Book Festival, leading the effort to celebrate literature and the arts in her community.

Tiny musicians rehearse for the store's first anniversary celebration

Tiny musicians rehearse for the store’s first anniversary celebration

On the day of her first anniversary celebration, Saturday, June 1, we arrived to hear the sound of music – not from a boom-box, but from stringed instruments. Following our ears to the special events area in the store’s basement, we found dozens of young children, dressed in black and white, playing their pint-sized violins. Music teachers from a nearby music academy had each child’s full attention as they rehearsed for their first public performance. Then we went out to the open-air courtyard behind the bookstore to listen to Aurora’s warm welcome and congratulatory words from Congressman Charlie Rangle, and watch the children parade onto the stage to play “What a Wonderful World,” much to the delight of everyone gathered for the occasion.

Aurora has implemented a number of other programs and activities as well. There’s the Beans and Rice book group, De Colores Summer Reading program for kids, art exhibits and performances in her basement event area and outdoor courtyard, a bilingual children’s story-time – in all, more than twenty special events each month at La Casa Azul. And her small shop has become a “must” for Latino authors like Junot Diaz and Sandra Cisneros.

La Casa Azul signAurora’s dream has become a reality, yet is still a work in progress. Not only does the whole East Harlem community celebrate with her, the White House recently recognized La Casa Azul as a “Champion of Change.” Congratulations, Aurora! This is the indie spirit at its finest.

Now that the political season is heating up, we have to wonder how we’ll ever be able to get out of the financial mess that’s affecting the entire world. What will the new economy look like and who will help create it?

America has always been a land of entrepreneurs with a “can-do” attitude. Just last week, we visited Athens, Georgia to help put the finishing touches on a new indie bookstore, founded by one of the country’s youngest bookstore entrepreneurs. We first met Janet Geddis at BookExpo in 2009 and later that year, she attended our five-day intensive workshop retreat on owning a bookstore. Attentive every moment, she took copious notes, engaged in “group think” with the class, and asked smart, timely questions about the industry.

Indie Bookstore Grand Opening

The Avid Reader opens in Athens, Georgia this week.

Her greatest challenge was the lack of start-up capital. Without it, how would Janet get this business off the ground? We knew she had the intelligence and passion to create something wonderful if she could only find the funds. What has subsequently unfolded in Athens is a story we hope to see played out in communities everywhere.

Janet relied on her personal network and social media to share her dreams with friends, neighbors, colleagues, and the local press. With an already strong ‘Shop Local’ movement, a younger and educated demographic from the University of Georgia, and an interest in grass-roots efforts, Janet was cultivating fertile ground and kept widening her network, winning fans along the way.

She started small, launching a web store to get going, showing up at festivals and other gatherings with a table to sell used books, created fund-raising events around her photographic art. She bartered, sent out ‘wish lists’ of things she needed to get the store open. She was never reluctant to ask for the help she needed. And she was determined to realize her dream – even when a bookseller from another town suddenly opened (and just as suddenly, closed).

This week, Janet will officially open Avid Bookshop in a quaint historic neighborhood of young families, professors, and students. A large replica of a colorful hot air balloon brightens the children’s room, courtesy of an artist friend. The fiction section has been personally selected by Janet and when chatting with her new staff, Tom, Sonia, and Rachel, you can foretell they will sell an amazing amount of fiction because of their passion for debut authors and taste for masterful writing. There’s a display of hand-made books created by another local artist.

It literally took a village to create an indie bookstore, and a young entrepreneur made it all happen. When we create a new economy with integrity and connection, we’re headed in the right direction — and a new generation of entrepreneurs, just like Janet, will lead the way.