Why Palabras Bilingual Bookstore Is Leaving Grand Avenue

Detail of the Jeff Slim mural that used to be inside the Palabras space on Grand Avenue.EXPAND
Detail of the Jeff Slim mural that used to be inside the Palabras space on Grand Avenue.
Lynn Trimble

Palabras bookstore is relocating from the La Melgosa building on Grand Avenue to a building on East McDowell Road near 17th Street, says owner Rosaura “Rosie” Magaña.

She’s already left La Melgosa, and plans to reopen in the new location at 1738 East McDowell on Sunday, May 21.

Though Magaña says she liked having the store on Grand, there was something La Melgosa lacked that bookstores desperately need: air conditioning. “Swamp coolers are really bad for books,” she says.

Looking west past the building where Palabras will open in May.EXPAND
Looking west past the building where Palabras will open in May.
Lynn Trimle

One day in late February, Magaña was walking along part of McDowell Road, and stumbled onto a business called McDowell Market that blends organic grocery store, art space, and café.

It turns out that the owner was looking for someone to take over an empty space in the building. Magaña decided to go for it, and she’s making some pretty big plans.

First, she’s changing the name of her business to Palabras Bilingual Bookstore, so people know she carries books in both Spanish and English. She's also looking to double the number of titles she carries.

“We have a lot of large shelving, so we may have room for 12,000 books,” Magaña says. Right now, she’s got about 6,000 titles being stored in the back of her new space until all the shelving is installed.

The new site for Palabras Bilingual Bookstore, before the space was ready for Rosie to move her books in.EXPAND
The new site for Palabras Bilingual Bookstore, before the space was ready for Rosie to move her books in.
Lynn Trimble

There will also be more events and classes at the shop.

“We’ll start up Spanish-language classes in the summer, and have other activities like movie nights,” Magaña says. She’s also working on little libraries, which are basically wooden boxes on pedestals installed in neighborhoods so community members can easily swap books.

The little libraries will feature art and bilingual signage painted by Phoenix artist Jeff Slim, and Palabras will fill them with bilingual books. Magaña plans to install the first ones in the Coronado and Garfield neighborhoods.

“The bookstore has really evolved,” Magaña says.

Upcoming Events

It all started after Magaña saw Librería Donceles, an art installation that consists of an itinerate Spanish-language used bookstore created by New York-based artist Pablo Helguera.

From March 21 to June 28, 2014, the Librería Donceles was located at the ASU Combine Studios Project Space in Roosevelt Row. For Magaña, experiencing Helguera’s work was a lightbulb moment.

She launched Palabras as a community gathering space in November 2015. After a year spent collecting thousands of titles, many donated for her new venture, Magaña held her official Palabras bookstore grand opening on November 12, 2016.

Jeff Slim mural (detail) painted at the previous Palabras, which he has since buffed over.EXPAND
Jeff Slim mural (detail) painted at the previous Palabras, which he has since buffed over.
Jeff Slim/Photo by Lynn Trimble

Now she’s getting ready for yet another milestone.

Librería Donceles, which is currently installed at Boston’s Urbano Project art space, will close for good on Saturday, April 22. After that, Helguera says he’ll make “a substantial donation” of its books to Palabras.

“Rosie’s bookstore is the best outcome I could ever have hoped to emerge from Librería Donceles,” he says. “There is nothing more meaningful for an artist than to see their work generate not just feelings, but positive actions.”

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