Tell us a little about bout yourself and Greenlight Bookstore.
GB: I, Jessica, grew up in California and came to New York to go to school. I’ve worked in bookstores in New York City since I was about 19 — when my partner Rebecca Fitting and I opened Greenlight, we had a combined twenty-five years of bookstore experience even though we were both under 40!
Greenlight was founded in 2009 with 7 employees; we now have about 50 employees and 2 bookstore locations, plus a stationery store, here in Brooklyn.
Why did you decide to open a bookstore?
GB: Rebecca and I had both worked in both bookstores and publishing and were looking for our next career step. We both lived in Brooklyn, where at the time (2008/2009) there were so many writers but not a lot of bookstores. We knew each other in the bookstore/publishing world, and I had written a draft business plan that had won a local business award when we started talking about partnership. We had a similar vision for what a great independent bookstore could be.
Was a bookstore a major need in your area?
GB: Yes, and we had data to prove it! The Fort Greene Association (a neighborhood association in the Fort Greene / Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn) had done a survey of residents aimed at taking back control of development in the area, asking what new businesses residents would like to see; “bookstore” was the number one answer across all demographics, and folks specifically wanted an independent. We were able to work with the FGA to connect with landlords, architects, and community lenders to get the store off the ground — it was an amazing community-led effort. For our second store location in the Flatbush / Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood, we similarly reached out to the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association who enthusiastically supported the need for a bookstore, and residents again supported the opening with community funding — which we’re now happily repaying.
How do you see Greenlight Bookstore progressing/expanding in the next few years?
GB: We’re in a big period of transition right now (as are many stores), as we not only navigate reopening post-pandemic but reassess our structures and systems through a lot of different lenses, including diversity, equity, and inclusion and the bandwidth it takes to sustainably operate multiple stores in the current retail environment. We want to continue to move toward offering better quality of life for our staff and better service to our communities, while we explore new opportunities in the book industry and in our communities.
What do you like the most about owning an indie bookstore?
GB: My favorite part of bookselling life is the idea of creating a welcoming space around books — a safe and beautiful place folks want to spend time in, somewhere that neighbors can encounter each other, have conversations, meet creators, make discoveries. That kind of space can happen in person or online, at an exciting literary event or a quiet morning browsing, and the diversity of our communities is built into the idea. No matter what role I’m playing at the store I’m always thinking about how we can create welcoming spaces.
Article originally Published in the April / May 2023 Issue: Voices