Friday, January 18, 2008
Leonora the Dealer
According to Leonora Stein, many who frequent her shop, Babbo's Books, which opened a little over a year ago on PPW, are self described book junkies. Well, they go to the right place, 'cause she can hook you up. As the bookseller who currently holds the monopoly on used and new books in a large chunk of South Brooklyn, she brings something crucial to Windsor Terrace and South Slope in the form of her well selected and affordable literary offerings. True to her slogan, "used and new books for everyone" she strives to reflect the desires of the neighborhood and wants to hear what you want. She'll work with you.
Just as she's been working to bring the community together in her way, in the various activities offered at Babbo's, which is named after her father, a book binder who died in a car accident 4 years ago. On Thursday night a writing group meets on the premises, on Sunday Matthew Reichers teaches about Buddhism and every Saturday at 11:00 she offers the Ezra Jack Keats story hour at no charge. A book club meets the first Friday of every month, and a plan is in the works to host a reading of The 30 Day Diabetes Miracle, a method of curing Diabetes through diet and exercise which was written by her cousin, a diabetic whose survival formerly depended on three doses of insulin per day.
She says she sold out when she opened Babbo's. What, what did you say? Well, she originally dreamed of opening a book store geared to the cause of social justice over in the Flatbush/Prospect Heights part of Brooklyn where she hoped to host lectures and discussion groups with the potential to unite diverse communities. Then one day when walking down Prospect Park West on the way to her home in Windsor Terrace she noticed the retail space available, felt a tug, and before long Babbo's came together. She expanded her target niche from the socially disenfranchised to everyone. I for one can forgive her. Perhaps she can franchise later if she's not satisfied with her choice. Perhaps I'm selfish, but I'm very satisfied with it.
She must be at least a little content, considering that her dream of owning a bookstore goes back to the age of 9 or 10, when she was a student at PS 321 in Park Slope. During middle school at Poly Prep, where her mother teaches history (ka ching, thanks mom!) she briefly entertained a career in law after winning a mock trial in which she played prosecutor. But by the end of her years at Midwood High School she felt more inclined to become a writer, and at 17, the dream of the store reemerged. After graduating from Bard she spent a year in the Citiyear program helping out in a 4th grade classroom at PS 137 in the lower east side, which led to the opportunity to participate in business training courtesy of NFTE. In particular, she credits her teacher Katarina Zacharia, who mentored her through the process of creating a business plan, with teaching her the lesson she values most: be flexible.
Other businesses on the strip have been very supportive, especially Diane from the Hallmark as well the folks at Krupa. Local book seekers tell her they always try to buy from her before buying online or heading to B&N, which I was very happy to hear considering it's not exactly easy to stay in business with rents as high as they are. She's says business isn't bad, she happily reports that people have been very generous in turning in their cast offs, and I can tell you that I've been bewitched by several finds I've come across at Babbo's. She sold 80 copies of the latest Harry Potter book, whatever that was, and impressively, 16 copies of Siddhartha, which she finds she can recommend to just about anyone. Someone says, "I just read something really long and involved and I'm looking for something short and beautiful." Leonora says "Siddhartha." Or someone says "Can you recommend something for my teenage daughter?" "How about Siddhartha?" Soon WT is going to be one of the most Buddhist by way of Germany communities in existence. Can Keanu move in soon?
But not into the store! It's pretty small, Leonora perpetually shifts things around to fit new arrivals, never appearing daunted by the long row of boxes lined up for sorting on the left side of the store. I know I'm not supposed to go through those boxes, those books haven't been priced yet, so I have to restrain myself. Which is hard, because for some reason I find when I'm in that space, books seem to come alive, they seem to ooze their history, varied perspectives, mysterious origins and brilliance as if she sprinkled them with some fairy dust.
Where she hides that stuff, I haven't discovered, although I've snooped around a little. I have a feeling that cat of hers, Holly GoLightly, knows the secret. I'm keeping my eye on that cat.
But enough about that show stealing cat, I wanted to write this because I'm so proud of Leonora, who at the age of 25 has started to irrigate this neighborhood with a river of premium words and welcome kindness. Let's continue to look out for her and watch Babbo's thrive.
242 Prospect Park West