Nestled between a thrift store and an Argentinian restaurant on 45th and Walnut streets lies West Philadelphia's newest independent co-op bookstore: Making Worlds.
As a co-op, Making Worlds is collectively owned by all of its employees who aim to foster community growth and provide a platform for traditionally marginalized groups to share their stories. The store, which officially opened Feb. 14, shelves books under headings like "Marxism," and "Globalization," and is home to a branch of Brooklyn-based publishing house Common Notions, which seeks to promote radical and non-traditional texts.
Lucy Duncan, a founding member of the bookstore, explained the space was created primarily to serve the community and to use literature as a vehicle for social change.
“The vision is to have an alternative education space that extends into the community,” Duncan said. “The way we judge whether we’re successful or not is whether the communit[ies] around us, particularly the Black and brown and queer and trans communit[ies] around us, has a greater sense of stability and well being.”
Like Duncan, Penn English Undergraduate Chair Josephine Park believes written narratives can be vital to understanding the culture and experiences of marginalized groups.
“There are lots and lots of examples where literature is a primary means for trying to comprehend these really core American experiences that get sidelined," Park said. "Few experiences are as powerful as that literary connection, to have that kind of contact.”
Park also said that physical bookstores enhance the book buying experience and help create connections within communities more than online retailers. In light of difficulties most independent bookstores face due to the rise of online shopping and retail giants such as Amazon, she stressed the Penn English department’s dedication to supporting independent bookstores like Making Worlds and the Penn Book Center, which the department helped keep open when it almost closed last spring.
Making Worlds will hold a series of events each month in collaboration with organizations and individuals involved in social justice activism, according to collective member Bri Golphin.
“While we are a new place and a bookstore and we have our own social center, we don’t want to forget how this came about, where we each come from,” Golphin said. “We also want to [support] these other folks who have been doing the work for years, decades, or generations.”
Last month, the store held a community teach-in, to fundraise and spread awareness about land and water source violations suffered by indigenous Americans. Collective member Liora Libertad said the bookstore wants to host a self-defense class, specifically focused on empowering members of the LGBTQ community.
College sophomore Julia Esposito attended the store’s grand opening on Feb. 14 and said she appreciated the mission of the store as well as the friendly atmosphere.
“I’ve been to a lot of bookstores, and there was just something about [Making Worlds]," she said. "Even though I was only there for a couple of hours, you felt like you were a part of a family. They really wanted people to interact with each other, and it was a very positive place to be.”
Libertad said the group's deep roots in the city are crucial to effectively serving the community. Golphin and Libertad are Philadelphia natives, and Duncan has lived in the city for over 20 years.
“It’s important for us not just to reclaim our world, but make it and shape it ourselves,” Libertad said.