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Former Barnes and Noble employees open Queens bookstore

Traditional brick-and-mortar retail stores are falling more to the wayside as consumers opt to do more of their shopping on the internet. Some of the first retailers to be affected by the internet’s increased prominence were bookstores, as a result of services like Amazon and the rise of e-books. In New York City, the long-time staple Barnes & Noble has been scaling back its physical presence within the city, eventually disappearing entirely from The Bronx and Queens.

On New Year’s Eve 2015, the company left Queens for good when the area’s last store, its popular Forest Hills location, closed its doors.

Other than the independently operated Astoria Bookshop, the closure left Queens without a bookstore to call its own.

Shortly after the store closed, three former employees of that particular Barnes & Noble store, Vina Castillo, Holly Nikodem and Natalie Noboa, decided to team up and start a movement to bring brick and mortar book retail back to that part of Queens,  calling their enterprise “The Queens Bookshop Initiative.”

Word quickly began to spread of the initiative, and after gaining a fair amount of local media coverage in early 2016, the three friends started a Kickstarter campaign in April to raise money for the potential store.

The two month campaign was an unprecedented success, ultimately raising $72,000 from 831 Queens residents.

After having several small pop-up locations in various parts of Queens, the final location for the store was finally settled upon back in May. The location is a 700 square foot space in Kew Gardens that is fairly close to the Long Island Rail Road station on Austin Street, making it the neighborhood’s first bookstore in over 30 years.

Ironically enough, it is also roughly a mile and half away from where the Barnes & Noble in Forest Hills was located.

Throughout the summer, the three were preparing the store for its grand opening. They finally settled on the store’s name: Kew & Willow Books.

The name is a tribute to both the neighborhood and the magical weeping willow tree featured in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Two preview events were also held in the partially complete store, attracting more than 300 Queens residents.

On Oct. 7, the highly anticipated store opened to an anxious neighborhood. “We’re super stoked (and kind of nervous? But excited nervous) to finally be YOUR bookstore!,” the three women wrote on their Facebook page.

As a means of both getting used to the full space and understanding how daily business could potentially turn out, the store runs on a weekend-only basis, gradually easing its way to daily operations in the coming weeks.

The store is split into two sections. The front is dedicated to adult fiction and nonfiction books. Graphic novels and comics are also given a substantial amount of space in this section of the store because Nikodem is a huge fan of that genre. In contrast, the back of the store is dedicated entirely to both children’s books and young adult novels. This area has enough space to allow younger visitors an enjoyable story time.

The atmosphere as a whole is designed to give visitors an experience that both reminds them of what was lost when Barnes & Noble left, and to provide them with a more intimate and local feel to book shopping.

In addition to stocking shelves with every genre available, there is also a big emphasis on local writers, with a permanent display that rotates Queens-based authors on a monthly basis.

The store even has plans to host various events involving local authors. One such event happened last month at Maple Grove Celebration Hall in Kew Gardens. The central focus of the event was mystery authors Alex Segura and Lyndsay Faye. It was moderated by Daniel Ford, an author and podcaster at Writer’s Bone.

If the previews and first weekend are references to go by, this Kickstarter-funded enterprise is off to a very promising start. If one needs anymore indication how successful the initiative was in bringing a bookstore back to Queens, popular Manhattan retailer Book Culture has also announced plans to open a new store in Long Island City.

Kew & Willow Books is located at 81-63 Lefferts Blvd in Kew Gardens, NY. As of press time, the weekend hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

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