All hands on deck

Most of our memories of Word Up are filled with people and books. But before all that, a small group of neighbors had to physically put everything together to make the place look like a bookshop! Robin Glasser—one of our earliest volunteers and longtime volunteer co-coordinator—was one of the capable hands who helped transform the raw empty storefront at 4157 Broadway into a bookstore. Here is her tale of the grand opening day:

There are six hours left to transform our empty space into Word Up, a community bookstore. My friend Inju, who is responsible for getting me involved in the first place, and I are the only volunteers to arrive. Petite in stature but filled with energy and determination, we get to work.

Several donated shelves, a few on wheels, are waiting for books, and there is a mountain of cartons that needs to be opened. The building super and his able-bodied assistant stop by to see if they can get the lights to work. Inju asks for a ladder. She’s staked out a nook and wants to hang some material as a backdrop for her display of books printed on Kaboom, the small press that she and her partner own. The assistant returns with a handcrafted rustic ladder, which doesn’t look like it would hold a paperweight.

“You’re not gonna climb that thing?!” I exclaim. Squaring tiny shoulders, hammer in hand, Inju ascends. The ladder creaks and shivers. The two sturdy men and I watch, open-mouthed. As the rickety contraption begins a sassy shimmy, I holler, “Can one of you hold onto that thing!” If Inju takes a swan dive, it will be up to me alone to get Word Up together. The hours are speeding along and I’m getting crazy.

A woman enters the shop and is thrilled to learn a real, live bookstore has come to the hood. I beg her to lend a hand. She calls her husband to pick up their child and begins to hang artwork on the wall with the most holes—covering them with canvases. Every time people drop in, I try my damnedest to get them to help. We’re beginning to resemble Santa’s workshop with a limited bunch of elves merrily stacking books, moving cartons, and doing whatever elves do.

The opening night reception is only two hours away. I’m filthy, sweaty, but there’s still so much to accomplish. At last reinforcements arrive with food, wine, more shelves, and an assortment of lights, chairs, and other necessities to make our bookstore launch a success. I decide to leave the remaining transformation in their hands and go home to make myself presentable.

Fashionably late, I can’t believe the crowd chatting vivaciously outside Word Up. I thread my way through, overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and joy. But what really puts a permanent smile on my face is seeing my books displayed in a living, breathing bookstore.

I miss Word Up! After a year and a half, we were forced to close our door when new landlords bought the building. We are searching for a new space and would greatly appreciate your help. Please go to this link to learn more:

To see photos or read more about of our grand opening, check out the New York Times, the Manhattan Times, and the Uptown Collective.


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