Washington Heights bookstore grows from pop-up to community force in 10 years

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS -- When Veronica Santiago Liu and a group of neighbors came up with the idea for a pop-up bookshop in Washington Heights 10 years ago, they could not have imagined how well received it would be.

"When we first opened and were a pop-up, people kept on asking us 'What do you want for your future? How long do you want to be around?' And we had a meeting to discuss that and said 'We want to be here for 20 years," said Liu, the founder of Word Up Community Bookshop/Librera Comunitaria. "We want to be here for as long as possible, but 20 years felt like a generation."

Word Up Community Bookshop, at 2113 Amsterdam Ave. in Manhattan, serves as a place to find the perfect book, but perhaps even more crucially, has become an important hub for the community since opening in June 2011.

The nonprofit community-based bookshop is run by a group of neighbors and volunteers who created the space to embrace the different cultures and languages in their neighborhood.

"It's hard to compare this bookstore with other bookstores because we don't have a specific mission to make money or pay the rent," said the bookstore's Emmanuel Abreu. "Our primary goal is to do what we as a community want to do."

As a community nexus, Word Up Community Bookshop hosts concerts, book signings, movie screenings, art exhibitions, workshops, after-school events, and gatherings for locals to talk to politicians.

"If members want to hear about political leaders in the neighborhood we can host these meetings, where they can speak to their neighbors directly without us endorsing anyone specifically," Abreu said. "It's just so we can know what's going on in our community."

When people walk into the bookstore, Liu and Abreu hope they take away with them more than just books.

"What I would love for people to walk away with when they experience Word Up is a feeling that they can do the same thing wherever they are," Abreu said. "So, if they want to create a community space, I want them to see that all it takes is doing it and collaborating with like-minded people. I want people to walk away inspired to do whatever it is they want to do."

To learn more about volunteering or donating to Word Up Community Bookshop, visit their website.