FOR THE PAST nine years, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo has known she wanted to own and operate her own bookstore. Now, she has the opportunity to peddle classics, cookbooks, graphic novels and more at Fort Greene’s newest attraction, the Greenlight Bookstore.
“I wanted to open a store of my own eventually, but I had no capital and no business experience,” she says, sipping a cup of coffee across the street from the soon-to-beopen shop. “So, I figured the best thing to do was to get all the experience I could.”
Her first stint selling books came after a teacher recommended she work in a bookstore. Bagnulo took the advice and got a job at Three Lives & Company in the West Village during her junior year at New York University. She fell in love with the place and the work. A year later, she graduated with a B.A. in English and creative writing and went on to work at Labyrinth—now Book Culture—on the Upper West Side and then McNally Jackson in Soho.
“All along I knew this was what I wanted to do eventually,” she says. “So, I started educating myself, going to conferences, meeting people and making contacts.”
Her next step was writing a business plan. And indeed, Bangnulo’s mock-up was so good it won her some capital at a business plan competition at the Brooklyn Public Library in 2008. Shortly after, she connected with the Fort Greene Association, which just so happened to be actively looking for someone to open a bookstore in its Brooklyn hood.
“It’s such a literary neighborhood, the only thing they didn’t have was a bookstore,” Bagnulo says. “We were always looking for a place that both needed and wanted it.”
Last summer, Bagnulo, 30, partnered with Rebecca Fitting, 35, a Random House sales representative, and the pair decided to make a go of opening a store.
“It was really like the perfect partnership,” says Bagnulo. “She had a nest egg and I had a business plan.”
After searching in Fort Greene, the two found a home for their shop on the corner of Fulton and South Portland streets in what used to be the Black Veterans For Social Justice.The 10,000-square-foot space has large windows all along the front and unique angles and crevices, which, says Bagnulo, will all have custom made bookshelves lining them.
“For a really long time it has been this unimaginable thing, and there were so many moments we were wondering if it would happen,” she says. “But somehow, it all worked out serendipitously.”
Despite feeling almost mystical about it, Bagnulo isn’t naive to the current state of printed material and the places that sell them—especially, the independent bookstore.
“I know times are tough for bookstores so I can’t be cocky about that,” says Bagnulo. “But, I have worked in several vibrant bookstores that are prosperous. I have seen it done right and especially in Brooklyn where people grasp the value of shopping local and independent.”
Small shop owner Patricia Mulcahy understands this. As a part-time editor and proprietor of Tillie’s, a decade-old coffee shop in the neighborhood (where, full disclosure, I have toiled as a barista), she says Bagnulo is brave for opening up a shop in today’s economic climate, but, “Fort Greene is a great place to try it because of the many well-known and aspiring writers in the neighborhood.”
Greenlight is not the first bookstore the neighborhood has supported. Indigo Books, which specialized in African-American literature, used to be down the street, but closed a few years ago. Other bookstores in the area include Ultramarine Books, which focuses on rare art books and is open by appointment only, and Dare Books, which sells mainly educational books. Bagnulo and Fitting’s store will be the first general bookstore in the area.
“I think it’s going to be a great addition to the neighborhood,” says Deborah Shiff, one of Greenlight’s handful of employees. “The two woman running it have a great, creative plan.”
They also have pure excitement and joy for the work. As she lists the upcoming books, Bagnulo glows with anticipation and can’t stop smiling.
“There are so many good books coming out this fall, it’s a great time to open a bookstore,” she says.
Among them, Boerum Hill poster boy Jonathan Lethem releases his new novel Chronic City this month and will read from it at the bookstore on Nov. 5—one of many lined up to appear at Greenlight in the next few months. (The store’s Oct. 24 launch party will feature neighborhood fixture Touré as well as giveaways from local lit mag A Public Space).
“We have no idea what will happen, but we have so many people chomping at the bit waiting for us to open the doors,” says Bagnulo. “At least we have some customers who are there, waiting to buy something.
> Greenlight Bookstore
686 Fulton St. (at South Oxford St.), Brooklyn, 718-246-0200