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Greenlight Bookstore started with the dreams of two different booksellers and a Brooklyn neighborhood. Our story is a story of opportunity, passion, and most importantly, community.
Rebecca Fitting and Jessica Stockton Bagnulo spent a combined 26 years working in bookstores and in publishing before becoming business partners, and both had determined separately to make a career out of books. In 2007 Jessica entered the Brooklyn Business Library’s Power Up! business plan competition, and in January 2008 her bookstore business plan was awarded the grand prize of $15,000. Jessica and Rebecca began to talk in April of 2008 after realizing they shared a passion for opening a forward-thinking brick & mortar independent bookstore, and recognizing their complementary skills; they formed a partnership that summer.
During the same time, the venerable community organization known as the Fort Greene Association commissioned a survey to find out what kinds of retail options local residents thought were missing from their changing neighborhood of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Across all demographics of income level, ethnicity, and background, the #1 answer was “a bookstore.”
Determined to bring a bookstore to the neighborhood, the FGA’s retail committee read about Jessica’s business plan win in the news and contacted her to see if she might want to put down bookstore roots in Fort Greene. The neighborhood was a perfect fit for Jessica and Rebecca’s vision, and all three dreams began to work together.
The FGA threw a party for Rebecca and Jessica and their as-yet-unnamed bookstore in September 2008; over 300 locals came out to support the bookstore plan. Author Colson Whitehead and local residents gave speeches, and the event was covered in the New York Times At the party, Jessica and Rebecca announced the store’s name: Greenlight Bookstore. They also launched their Community Lender Program, in which individuals loaned the store $1000 or more in order to help the store get started. Over $70,000 of the bookstore’s startup capital ultimately came from community lenders, and their support allowed the business to obtain loans for the remainder of the capital needed to create the bookstore.
With a partnership, a neighborhood, financing, and a name in hand, the search for a location ensued. After seriously considering various spaces throughout the neighborhood, Jessica and Rebecca found the bookstore’s home after being connected to landlords IBEC Living via neighborhood supporters. They also landed their architect team, Davies Tang + Toews (formerly deFT Projects) and the work of designing and constructing Greenlight Bookstore began in earnest.
In June of 2009, construction began at 686 Fulton Street, aided by the community of neighbors, book industry colleagues, friends and family. With overwhelming generosity, people came daily to help the artisans, contractors and bookstore staff to clean, scrape, paint, stain shelves, and check in and sort books. With their help, Greenlight Bookstore was ready for business by October. Greenlight sold its first book (to a neighboring business owner and friend) on October 16, and one week later we held our official launch party on October 24, 2009. On a rainy night, to an over-capacity crowd, City Council member Leticia James, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and local author Toure talked about the value of an independent bookstore for this community. Then Jessica and Rebecca proposed a joyfully teary toast:
"A little over a year ago we had a launch party for a bookstore that didn't exist, where the community came together to support the idea of this place. From that point all the way to now, where we're standing in a bookstore that does exist, the support for this project from all kinds of people has been unwavering, and amazing. We feel like there's so much soul in this space, because of all the energy and enthusiasm that you have brought to it. We're here because of you. In a way, this is your bookstore: you did so much to make it happen, and your support and interaction will give it life. We're so honored to be part of this community, and we'd like to propose a toast. To Greenlight Bookstore, and to the community that created it. Long life, prosperity, and happy reading."
But of course that was just the beginning of the Greenlight Bookstore story! Some landmark moments of our first five years include:
• Fall 2010: Greenlight launched its ecommerce website, greenlightbookstore.com, offering online shopping options as well as information about store events and programs.
• Fall 2011: Greenlight became the official vendor of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), opening kiosk locations at the BAM Opera House and BAM Harvey Theater.
• Summer 2012: Greenlight began partnering with St. Joseph’s College to create the Brooklyn Voices series. The series has gone on to host headlining authors including Junot Diaz, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jhumpa Lahiri, and David Mitchell.
• Fall 2012: Greenlight began partnering with BAM to create the Unbound literary series. The series has gone on to host book launches for authors including John Cleese, Richard Dawkins, Lena Dunham, and Neil Gaiman.
• Spring 2013: Greenlight began partnering with nonprofit Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration to host authors in the historically African American neighborhood. Authors appearing at Restoration have included Hill Harper, Buddha Monk, Bryan Stevenson, and Mike Tyson.
• Fall 2013: Greenlight launched its First Editions Club, offering subscribers specially selected autographed first edition hardcover books each month. Many of the FEC selections have gone on to win major literary awards.
• Fall 2013: Greenlight (along with other independent bookstores began) offering Kobo ebooks through our website.
• 2013-2014: Greenlight expanded its partnerships with area schools, bringing successful book fairs and author visits to several dozen public, private and charter schools throughout Brooklyn.
• Summer 2014: Greenlight paid off its small business loan to the World Trade Center Small Business Recovery Fund.
• Summer 2015: Greenlight paid off the last of its Community Lender loans, becoming fully debt-free.
Check out the Press page for more of the Greenlight Bookstore story.