We feel incredibly lucky to live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. It’s not only a neighborhood rich in culture and history, but it also has the feel of a small town community. You can walk down the street and run into someone you know. This neighborly feeling is only magnified when we walk through the doors of Greenlight Bookstore.
Greeted with friendly hellos from the staff and the smell of fresh new books on the shelves, it’s a welcoming place no matter if this is your first or one hundredth visit. This particular morning I was there to drop off a card delivery and chat with co-owner Rebecca Fitting. In the short 30 minutes I was in the store, a local customer (and book editor) brought his son in for a post doctor’s visit pick-me-up, out-of-towners asked and received directions (complete with the most scenic route to take), and a woman stopped in to pick up her lost credit card after receiving a call that a staff member had found it. With an experience like this, one would think the bookstore was built just for these reasons. The thing is…it kinda was.
In 2008 when the Fort Greene Association determined that across all demographics…income level, ethnicity, and background… the number one desire from the community was a bookstore, Rebecca Fitting and Jessica Stockton Bagnulo were there ready to deliver! You see, Jessica had already entered and won Brooklyn Public Library’s PowerUp! Competition earlier that year. She had already met Rebecca and the two of them formed a partnership with the goal of opening a forward thinking brick and mortar bookstore. So, when the stars aligned in a neighborhood as authentic as Fort Greene, nothing could stop Greenlight Bookstore from becoming what it is today, a place for the community to gather and feel at home.
In addition to family members and friends, it was the people of Fort Greene who opened their wallets to lend Rebecca and Jessica the money they needed to make their dream become a reality. Rebecca said, “It’s a wonderful relationship to have with your customers. They feel a sense of pride. When they have family visiting, they bring them by the store and show it off.”
There is a lot to show off, indeed, starting with the employees, who in our opinion are what makes the store such a friendly environment and the reason it continues to grow to fit the community’s desires. These individuals are far more than cashiers. Everyone who works here is in charge of something extra which brings another element to the Greenlight experience. Rebecca says they have been lucky to have a really good staff, but we don’t think you can credit luck. Good people attract good people. Rebecca explained when an employee is hired they start out as a standard bookseller. This allows the employee to get to know the bookstore, the customers and the owners - and vice versa. Once it is determined how this individual fits into the community, they are given the chance to grow in that area. It all happens pretty naturally. We would like to highlight a few.
Brette Weinkle, who used to be a teacher, naturally became the leader of The Young Reader’s Book Club. “This club makes me the most proud,” Rebecca shared with us. For ages 8-14, the club meets monthly and discusses a book previously assigned. The evening starts out somewhat quiet with the pre-teens sitting in a circle, their parents close by. Then the pizza arrives and Brette gets the conversation started. Rebecca said, “It’s special to watch. Before you know it, the kids are excited to talk about things that happened in the book. That’s a hard age to capture interest in books and I’m proud we can do it. ”
If you have a toddler, it’s most likely they know bookseller Jarrod Annis by name. His personality and musical talent landed him the role of children’s entertainer on Friday afternoons. His way with people also made him the perfect person to be in charge of the buying for self-published books. You don’t have to be represented by one of the big guys to have your book sold at Greenlight. You just need to write a good book.
Angel Nafis runs The Poetry Salon, which occurs quarterly. She has been at Greenlight for three years, but poetry has been a part of her since she can remember. Since she grew up in the poetry rich town of Ann Arbor, Michigan and writes her own poetry, it made perfect sense that she began curating and hosting these events. When she had finished writing her book, “Blackgirl Mansion,” Greenlight naturally hosted her launch party. It was an evening catered by one of her favorite restaurants, Peaches, and featured talks by several of her mentors. Angel lit up as she told me about it. We think Angel summed it up best. “I love the world of literature. I love books. I love to sell books. I love to write books. All three make me better at my job. It all works out very harmoniously.” With employees like this, no wonder Greenlight is a success.
Love Jac’s Guide to Greenlight:
In 2011 when we entered the PowerUp! Competition ourselves and learned of Greenlight’s success, we immediately added “selling our cards at Greenlight” to our business plan. When Greenlight placed their first order we were extremely honored. We love how our cards look in the store. You can find our Love Jac cards on a tall spinning display by making a left as soon as you enter. Below are the top 7 things we love about Greenlight.
#1 The New York Section - When it comes to New York, Greenlight has books for both locals and tourists. And we will confess…we get equally excited when we read about our city in a book as we do when we see it on television or in a movie. Whether you want a fiction or non-fiction story, Greenlight is your one-stop shop. Of course, they have the staples, “Motherless Brooklyn” and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, but you might also want to check out Rebecca’s favorite, “Netherland” by Joseph O’Neal.
#2 The Children’s Section - The children’s section is located in the back of the store and almost feels like its own room. We admit we are partial to this section because we have a two-year-old, but we have to thank Rebecca & Jessica personally for creating this safe haven. We’ve ducked into the store many times when we were in need of a place to regroup. The Maisy House is the perfect size and gives Georgia a place to entertain herself (and any new friends we might make that day) while I shop for a birthday present or pick up a book for our art class. Books make great gifts, but Greenlight also has a good selection of toys. There’s also enough room to sit on the floor and read Georgia a book or two. We recommend “Baby ABC” by Deborah Donenfeld (full disclosure…Georgia is B & Z in this book). It is a great book filled with several young Brooklynites.
Deborah & Georgia
#3 Sunday Morning Sing-a-longs - We wish we could personally rave about one of the book readings or adult events where wine is served, but the truth is that it’s been hard with a new baby to fit that into our life lately. (I’m sure in about a year we will start getting out more.) What we can highly recommend is Sunday Morning Sing-A-Longs!! This is where Georgia’s favorite performer, Miss Nina, plays her pink guitar. You can find her there once a month, but don’t let that keep you from going every week. Greenlight showcases wonderfully talented performers that will entertain you and your little ones.
#4 Design Books - Our literary weakness is definitely design books. We just can’t resist home décor and organizing. It’s a little ironic that we can’t stop filling our small apartment with books showing us how to organize and declutter our small apartment but, hey, it makes us happy. Greenlight is a great supplier when it comes to this addiction. Each time we pop in we see a new book we just have to have. The design book section is located to the left of the cash register. While you are browsing, be sure to do a quick 180 because there are featured design books right behind you as well.
Design Books in front of you...
...and behind you.
#5 Authors Everywhere - The difference between an author and an actor is that you most likely wouldn’t recognize an author if they were browsing the bookshelves next to you. Lucky for you Greenlight highlights them frequently with many readings, book signings and discussion events. Now you can put a face to that name. I would not have recognized Matt (the editor who brought his son in) if Rebecca hadn’t introduced us, but since she did I think it’s only right that I tell you about the two books he’s working on: Joe Sacco’s graphic novel, “The Great War” and “A Reader’s Book of Days”, written by Tom Nissley, a former Jeopardy champion. Here's a link to famous writers from Fort Greene.
#6 The Rewards Club - After you spend $200 collectively, Greenlight gives you a free gift. You can choose from a tote bag, t-shirt, onesie, or featured book, among other goodies. We didn’t know about this program until we actually spent the $200, so it felt like we had just won the lottery!! Georgia, being the best big sister she is, chose a onesie for her then unborn brother. Conroy now fits into it and looks pretty handsome, if we do say so ourselves.
#7 They will order your books for you - Did you know that if Greenlight doesn’t have a book you need, they will order it for you? You can choose to have it shipped directly to you or pick it up in-store. In the world where amazon.com exists, this is a great way to support smaller guys without losing any of the convenience the big guys offer. Rebecca is constantly surprised by the amount of special orders they do. She said often people shop the website and then pick up their book on their way home.
We have loved Greenlight Bookstore from the time we first visited. We feel even more a part of the community now that they sell our cards. It has been great getting to know the booksellers and building relationships with them. We look forward to many more years of working together and enjoying all that the bookstore has to offer. We hope you will as well.
686 Fulton Street (at South Portland)
Brooklyn, NY 11217