by Selena Cordar
photography by Kaylie Ennis
Colorful paneled banners drape across the ceiling with hints of warm light woven within. The scent of printed pages, old and new, fills the air. The ambiance of Café con Libros Press, a non-profit and volunteer-run shop, welcomes each customer with open arms, creating a safe space for all.
Owners Adi Bautista and Pati De Robles met 30 years ago at the University of La Verne as undergraduate Spanish majors. The two Hispanic women recognized one hardship they both had faced throughout their educational careers: a lack of representation in literature.
“During my time at La Verne, there were only a handful of Latinos who shared our experiences,” De Robles says. “The lack of diversity was painfully obvious. It wasn’t until later on that I came across authors who were people of color.”
The pair decided to turn this deficit in education into an advantage, resulting in the beginning of their space in 1997. Due to unforeseen circumstances, they had to close the first version of Café with Libros Press in 2001. Fortunately, the space reopened in 2017 and has thrived ever since.
The name, Café con Libros Press, came from the previous occupants, who were selling coffee beans. “We kept the name because it almost translates to ‘Brown with Books,’ as ‘café’ works as a play on words for ‘brown’,” Bautista says. While coffee beans and freshly brewed coffee are not currently being offered there, the pair hope to one day make them available to their visitors.
Both Bautista and De Robles prefer that Café con Libros Press be called a “space” instead of a “shop” or “store” in hopes that anyone—regardless of race, cultural background, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation—can feel that they belong. “Safe Shop” or “Safe Store” does not invoke the same emotions of comfort as “Safe Space.”
“Yes, it is a bookstore, but it is more of a convergent space that is an intersection of ideas from people of different experiences,” Bautista says.
One way the owners work toward creating a feeling of welcome is through their lending library. Comprised of donated books, it is a place where anyone may pick out a book they like without worrying about the price. The owners do not want anyone to feel unwelcome if they are unable to afford the cost of a book. Customers are free to return, keep or pass the books along to someone else if they wish.
“We care only that books get into the hands of people who want to be educated,” De Robles says.
Being nonprofit, Café con Libros Press is able to promote literacy and educate the community without the worry of income from sales.
“The nonprofit route allows us to develop a mission beyond just selling books to make money,” Bautista says. “We also hope to qualify for grant funding because of our desire to promote literacy in the community, not just sell books.”
The volunteers at Café con Libros Press are literature enthusiasts who are mostly high school and college students. “As more volunteers from different racial backgrounds join us, the diversity increases,” De Robles says. “Every community adds something to the space, as they are able to share a life experience we didn’t have.”
Volunteer Karen Jaranilla has worked in the space since May 2021. Although she was first drawn by the opportunity to volunteer at a bookstore, she has become attached to the uniquely welcoming environment of Café con Libros Press.
“I came into the space and fell in love with how homey it is, and I found myself wanting to create that home for other people.,” Jaranilla says. “Although I wouldn’t call myself a writer, my creative brain is turned on here, and I feel inspired to write.”
Above all, the owners want to offer inspiration and education to their customers. “When we see young people accessing the books in the back, it gives us a particular thrill,” Bautista says. “I get excited when people get excited about a book.”
Because the vibe is so inviting, a few regular customers have become a part of the family by becoming volunteers. “This space is reassuring to a lot of our volunteers,” De Robles says. “We hear from our customers that the space is warm and comforting. People fall asleep on the couch, so it must be very comfortable.”
Bautista and De Robles are always looking for new ways to be inclusive of all people. “We’re learning what it means to be a young person in the world right now by listening to them,” De Robles says. “It’s important for us to pay attention to the youth as a way to continuously educate ourselves and increase the space’s diversity and inclusivity.”
In addition to providing books and a safe space for visitors, Café con Libros Press also has become a place for private vow renewals, memorial services and baby showers. Other events open to the public include open-mics, live music performances, and story-time events for young children.
“The fact that customers want to hold such significant events here tells us a lot about the comfort level of this space,” De Robles says.
More information about Cafe con Libros is available at cafeconlibros.org.