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Virtual bookstore brings local families together

“From what we’ve been seeing and experiencing, kids are extremely interested in books,” said Rebekah Shoaf, founder of Boogie Down Books.

Boogie Down Books owner Rebekah Shoaf (left) introduces the book of the week for Boogie Down Storytime Saturday event. Photo by Phone L. Reyes

On a Saturday morning in December, families filled the Mottley Kitchen restaurant on E. 140th Street and made their way towards a corner of the eatery to participate in a weekly public reading, courtesy of Boogie Down Books. 

Before Boogie Down Books’ founder Rebekah Shoaf introduced the book that had been chosen for the event and the volunteer who was about to read it aloud, a group of roughly 10 children ranging from infants to elementary school age sang the ritual “Good Morning” song. 

“From what we’ve been seeing and experiencing, kids are extremely interested in books,” said Shoaf. “Parents want to have that shared reading experience with their kids as well.” 

The Boogie Down storytime, which began promptly at 10 a.m., has become a staple weekly event for many families in Mott Haven. 

“The storytime has been really a great community connector not only for our kids, but for parents involved,” said Jeremiah Nunez, 36 a local father who attended the event with his children. “Just seeing how excited our kids get every Saturday morning getting up and getting ready for it.” 

Children in attendance were actively engaged and participating with feedback as volunteer Patrick Hart read the selected book, “Carmela Full of Wishes” by Matt de la Pena. Hart, 30, is a New York City public school teacher at P.S. 195X and a Mott Haven resident. He came across Boogie Down storytime one summer Saturday while eating breakfast with his girlfriend at Mottley Kitchen and inquired that day about getting involved. 

“I think literacy is the foundation of all learning,” said Hart. “I used to teach all the subjects and now I just teach math and science, so I kind of miss teaching reading. It’s nice to be able to still teach reading in a more relaxed and community-based environment.”

Boogie Down Books held its very first event, a one-day popup bookshop, in October 2017, then went on to forge a partnership with Mottley Kitchen last April. That union has since blossomed into annual book fairs, young adult reader book clubs, and collaborating with local schools to get parents engaged in reading with their kids.  

Due to the cost of opening a brick and mortar store, Shoaf decided the popup shop model would be a better way to establish partnerships. But having a bookstore without walls, as Shoaf refers to Boogie Down Books, comes with its own set of challenges. Storing books and transporting them to events without a vehicle are some of the challenges she has learned to manage over time.  

Boogie Down Books is a mission driven for-profit business. The business received a neighborhood grant of $3,000 from the Citizens Committee for New York City when it first opened, and has since become self-sustaining.

“We receive revenue from the books that we sell and from the services and programs that we provide from organizations in the community,” said Shoaf, adding that literacy has always been at the forefront for her. Shoaf previously worked as a high school English teacher and instructional leadership coach. 

Events such as Saturday storytime help forge community for families in area, she said. After the reading, she and Hart held a brief discussion about the book, and then families broke out into an arts and crafts activity. 

“Just being able to be around other kids, listening to pretty good positive stories, it’s been pretty good,” said Emil Lopez, 33, a local dad. “It’s not just reading for entertainment, it’s also fine tuning their reading comprehension.” 

Boogie Down Books can be contacted by phone at 347-916-6234, or by emailing [email protected]

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