In 2018, University of Arizona alumna Syrena Arevalo-Trujillo began Barrio Books as a pop-up vendor that would go to community events and barrio fiestas. What started with one table of books, today Barrio Books has a brick-and-mortar location inside Hotel McCoy at 720 W. Silverlake Rd.
Arevalo-Trujillo said she is a lifelong reader who enjoys books that reflect her culture. Before starting Barrio Books, Arevalo-Trujillo was a middle school teacher who saw how her students created an interest in reading when she would share culturally representative books.
She soon realized her interest to share these books with the entire Tucson community.
“I want our community members who come in to know that there is a space that represents them. That they can look at a book and see themselves in it. To know that this space is theirs. For our guests and visitors who stay at Hotel McCoy, I want them to feel like they are welcomed into Tucson and can get a first look at the vibrant culture that is the Latino community and the barrios that surround Hotel McCoy,” Arevalo-Trujillo said via email.
Nicole Dahl is Hotel McCoy’s executive director, the creative director and the mind behind the idea of Hotel McCoy’s community support program that offers rent-free spaces (an empty hotel room) to entrepreneurs in Tucson. The community support program stemmed from an existing program at Hotel McCoy called the commission free art program, inviting Tucson artists to display their art in their on-site gallery and in guest rooms.
"That concept had been working exceptionally well and I wondered if the same idea may work with a brick and mortar. Could we convert one of our hotel rooms into a storefront and offer it rent free to an entrepreneur with similar mission and values?” Dahl said via email.
Dahl who is also a writer and an avid reader was in search for a bookstore that was committed to diversity and inclusion. Barrio Books was the first business in this program.
“[Arevalo-Trujillo] may be the most resilient person on the planet, and she uses her passion and drive to make a difference,” Dahl said.
In an email, Arevalo-Trujillo discussed the variety of authors and books her Barrio Books offered such as their extensive selection of Latin American authors such as from Cuba, El Salvador, Peru and more. Additionally, since the opening of the new location on Jan. 2, 2021, they now have more space to expand their selection to Indigenous authors and authors of color.
“Everyone deserves a way to get their story told,” said Arevalo-Trujillo, in an email.
Barrio Books offers both English and Spanish language books, taking into account that Tucson has many bilingual readers.
Arevalo-Trujillo recalled that her "Latinidad" is a major part of her business. Therefore, she considered her business as a Latinx bookstore.
“By using the term “Latinx” it encompasses all people throughout the Americas,” Arevalo-Trujillo said.
Arevalo-Trujillo explained that about 80% of the books she sells are used. She said that many of the book come in rough conditions. She takes the time to curate them, clean them up and make them presentable for customers.
“I believe that used books deserve a second chance to inspire another,” Arevalo-Trujillo said.
According to Arevalo-Trujillo, running a business is a 24/7 job. She said there are always emails to answer or administrative things to do. In a regular day, she estimated the store receives around 15 customers plus online orders. Because of COVID-19, there can only be two customers at the same time and masks are required the whole time. Arevalo-Trujillo loved the interaction with customers because she enjoyed talking to them about the books they are reading.
So far Arevalo-Trujillo’s favorite thing to do has been doing research on new upcoming book releases and old books because, later, she gets to see how customers spark when they find the perfect new read or a childhood favorite that they forgot about.
Barrio Books opens from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For those who can’t go to the store, Barrio Books’ website carries the inventory and provides shipping across the U.S. They also offer in-store pick up.
Ambur Wilkerson, a Hotel McCoy employee, described the bookstore as charming with a friendly staff.
“I think it's fantastic how the store also sells things made and written by local artists of color. It's a wonderful addition to the city that shows local love and highlights Latinx and other BIPOC cultures,” Wilkerson said via email.
The future looks bright for Barrio Books. Arevalo-Trujillo wanted to own a space where she could provide an area for non-profit organizations where people can come together and do workshops, events and book club gatherings.
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