Interview with a Bookstore: Café Con Libros
A New Feminist Community Bookstore in Brooklyn
Opened just last December, Café con Libros is a feminist bookstore in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. The multi-use space hosts a variety of community-oriented programming, including author events, game nights, and film screenings.
What’s your favorite section of the store?
Kalima Desuze (owner): Ryan, my husband spends the most time there. He says he loves being behind the counter, serving the community, and engaging with all the folks he now considers his friends.
What would you say is your bookstore’s specialty?
Feminist books with a strong commitment to featuring women of color and nontraditional narratives.
Do you have bookstore pets or animal regulars? If so, can you please provide pictures and describe their personalities?
We do. We have quite a few pet regulars however; we have not taken any pictures. I will definitely be sure to get some snapshots in the future!
What’s your favorite book to handsell?
All About Love, bell hooks.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
A kid-friendly nursery. I love plants and flowers. I would love to bring nature indoors in a safe way that allows kids to explore and be curious about other living beings.
Who’s your favorite regular?
Ryan loves Jackie from 99 Rogers next door, his Cortado drinking, up-in-the-sky-dazing friend (he can’t remember his name), and Ma-Nyahn, manager of social media for Bottoms Up.
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the store?
We’re pretty young so there hasn’t been much craziness happening. Ryan says if this story counts: all of our regular drinks are less than $4 and customers always check to see if we’ve charged them correctly for their coffee. They can’t believe the prices and often insist that we check to see if everything they’ve asked for was charged.
What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?
I’m a bookworm so my focus and happy place is always with the books. I didn’t realize that the bookstore has a personality of its own that I must maintain online and on the ground. It takes a lot of work to tell her story in a way that connects with the community.
What’s your favorite display?
The floating shelf of children’s books on the counter. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in the door and, it speaks volumes about our politics, values, and intention.
Tell us about your most memorable author event.
Ryan’s would be La Borinquena; the first Puerto Rican superhero comic book signing. Ryan described it as being informative, lively, and so engaging. He talked about how much he learned about the island and its history. Recently, Justine Stephens played the flute at a book event. She was the best part of the night!
What’s your message to Amazon (and Amazon customers)?
I have a complicated relationship with Amazon as I believe they serve a specific purpose and, possibly a very specific population. Their expediency and ability to sell books lower than cost benefits some for sure and therefore, I want to be careful not to paint with a broad brush. But I wonder what Amazon’s sense of responsibility is to smaller bookstores? I would like to engage in a deeper conversation with Amazon around their business ethic as it relates to making books accessible to the masses and more specifically, does that include support for local businesses in the form of grants, using their platform to promote local business stores, etc. I’m not interested in demonizing a business and service I utilize often as a business owner and as I move through the world six months pregnant. I do believe, however, that there’s always room to live with principles and I wonder what theirs is.
To Amazon Customers:
Bookstores have the potential to maintain history, culture, tradition—and bring folks together—in a way that few other business can. There is something incredibly special about a space dedicated to advancing diverse, complicated, vibrant and often overlooked narratives and talent. It is up to us to ensure that our politics are rooted in a sustainable brick and mortar institution within communities specifically and particularly communities of color where such establishments have struggled to survive. I will not shame you nor will I say that all your purchases must be local. But I invite you to invest in your local business rather than in Amazon. Amazon will not miss your money; a local business will.
How do you use the bookstore to build community?
It’s a space for folks to come connect and, with it being so small, community members need to be comfortable sitting with strangers. Conversations naturally begin, overlap, and intersect. On so many levels, it’s an organic process facilitated by natural light, calm decor, and proximity.
Have you felt any shift in what it means to be a bookseller under the Trump administration?
This is hard to answer. It’s asking that I center Trump in the vision and manifestation of the bookstore when in truth the likes of 45th has always existed. In that same vein, feminist resistance has always risen to the challenge. So, my charge as an activist and purveyor of truth, justice, and women’s narratives feels more urgent with him being in office yet, I’m clear the threat has always been there.
What’s your favorite thing to sell at the bookstore that’s not a book?
A beautiful cup of latte with milk art.
What’s a children’s book that made you cry/that you think all adults should read?