June 11, 2020

Phoenix’s Mission-driven Bookstore Stays Open with Community Support


Almost exactly a year ago, we wrote about how Palabras–Phoenix, AZ’s first bilingual bookstore–needed our help. At that point, Palabras was a few-year-old bookstore and community space with all kinds of bilingual and POC-focused events and extracurricular programming.

As hard as it was to fund and carry out that mission a year ago–even in a city with a 30% Latino population–my god is it really hard now, what with the collapse of the entire economy and all.

But if you’re here in search of another 2020 tragedy, move along, pal. This isn’t that type of story. No no, this is a sunny story of hope, community, and a bookstore living to fight another day in the Valley of the Sun.

As KiMi Robinson writes for The Arizona Republic’s AzCentral.com:

After five years of hosting inclusive book club meetings, book signings, workshops, poetry salons, open mic nights, panels and discussions, the owner of Palabras Bilingual Bookstore in Phoenix had to cancel in-person events and most shopping indefinitely due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

While the bookstore remains open to shoppers by appointment only, business hasn’t been the same. That’s why several self-identified “friends of Palabras” rallied the community to help owner Rosaura “Chawa” Magaña keep the business afloat through a GoFundMe fundraiser.

It only took the group of online fundraising heroes two weeks in May to raise $10,000 to help carry the store through the worst of the economic downturn.

A grateful Magaña says she won’t fully re-open the store right away, as Arizona’s zeal for re-opening the state has kept its coronavirus case count high. With the money she will keep up with the store’s bills, especially those devastating central Arizona summer air conditioning costs.

To boost Robinson’s plug for the store’s next event: “Palabras’ next virtual event — a “mujerx book club” reading “Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick” by Zora Neale Hurston — will take place Saturday, June 13, on Zoom.”

Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.