What seemed once on the edge of extinction may be no more. At least if Kirstie Reynoso-Miranda has anything to say about it.
Right now, the borough’s only brick-and-mortar bookstore is The Lit Bar, and visiting that requires an expedition deep into the Bronx in Mott Haven. That’s a bit of a trek for Reynoso-Miranda out of her Van Cortlandt Village home. So she’s seriously exploring doubling the number of bookstores, with hopes to open what she intends to call Miranda Writes somewhere in the greater Riverdale area.
“I’ve always loved the idea of owning a bookstore,” Reynoso-Miranda said. “And so, it was an idea I’ve been sitting on for a really long time. And now it just felt like the perfect time to go for it.”
If she succeeds, Miranda Writes would be the area’s first bookstore since Paperbacks Plus closed its Riverdale Avenue doors in 2008 after 38 years. Not only was it the place to pick up the latest Stephen King bestseller, but it also was a vital part of the neighborhood.
That store was the love of Fern Jaffe’s life. But times were changing with the boom of online booksellers like Amazon. Yet it was less that and more other loves waiting for Jaffe’s attention far from Riverdale.
“My interests were changing,” she told The Riverdale Press from her much warmer home near Sarasota. “I had established a wonderful relationship with a man in Florida. So, things in life happen, and 38 years is certainly a very long time to stand on your feet all day.”
One of the kids who would frequent that store was Reynoso-Miranda, who loved to browse the bookshelves. From time to time, Jaffe would welcome authors, including one particular visit from then New York Yankees star Derek Jeter. Reynoso-Miranda still owns the book Jeter signed to this day.
If she wants to restore the magic she remembers from Paperbacks Plus, Reynoso-Miranda has her work cut out for her. She’s never started a business before, and doesn’t even work inside the world of books. Instead, she’s a project manager at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Yet books are a passion she just can’t ignore.
“I’ve always been such an avid reader,” Reynoso-Miranda said. “As a kid, I had so many books, that really, I can look at the book and it sort of timestamps my life. I just wanted to create a place that I would love to be in, and I didn’t feel like I was the only one.”
Her favorite books come from the romance shelf where she reads just about everything from authors like Helen Hoang, Talia Hibbert and Colleen Hoover.
Opening a store won’t be easy, and Reynoso-Miranda already is seeking out some training to do it right. She might also consider following Jaffe’s path that started with her original store in 1970. Picking a good location is vitally important, something that served Paperbacks Plus well at 3718 Riverdale Ave., where Corner Café and Bakery is now.
Reynoso-Miranda would love to lease her own space on Riverdale Avenue. However, she’s also open to storefronts on Broadway and anywhere that makes sense from a business and financial standpoint.
“Riverdale is such a great community, and people are very passionate about what’s in their neighborhood,” Reynoso-Miranda said. “I think a bookstore is more than just a retail front, it’s a place for the community, and so I wanted to get the community’s input in sort of a structured way to be able to put that information into my business plan.”
That’s a fancy way of describing a survey asking participants about their reading habits — like whether they prefer physical or e-books, as well as some of their favorite genres. Some have been surprising, like the range of subjects readers are interested in, from business books to anime.
While the survey might influence how Reynoso-Miranda stocks her shelves, she wants her bookstore to attract a wide audience. That means selling a little bit of everything.
Some of that everything should include books that are near impossible to find anywhere else, Jaffe said. Paperbacks Plus sold books that flew just under the radar not generally found in Jaffe’s much-bigger competitors at the time, like Barnes & Noble.
“For example, there was a time in the history of bookselling when the mall stores, you could go in there and you couldn’t buy a copy of ‘The Great Gatsby,’” Jaffe said. “They didn’t bother to have that. But you could walk into my independent store and Hemingway and Fitzgerald would always be on the shelf.”
Jaffe’s bookstore often held events with local organizations like Riverdale Neighborhood House, of which her husband was a member. Jaffe also served as the first president of the Central Riverdale Avenue Business Association.
Reynoso-Miranda envisions Miranda Writes to also serve as a town square, a space where like-minded people can connect. That’s why she wants to pair her bookshelves with an attached café and wine bar.
Most importantly, Reynoso-Miranda wants to give her neighborhood — and the Bronx — something they desperately need: more bookstores.
“Especially in this neighborhood, there are over 15 schools, from kindergarten through college,” Reynoso-Miranda said. “So, how do you provide them the resources that they need? Or make it easier for them to get some of the resources that they want?
“I just saw a big need in my own community, and I wanted to help fill it.”