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Santa Ana’s LibroMobile Arts Cooperative is upgrading and making moves

Two women stand in front of bookshelves in a storefront.
Assistant Marilynn Montano, left, and owner Sarah Rafael Garcia stand in the new LibroMobile bookstore location near the Bristol Swap Mall in Santa Ana.
(Don Leach / Times Community News)

LibroMobile Arts Cooperative, a literary arts co-op and bookstore in Santa Ana, has existed in many places since it opened in 2016.

Sarah Rafael Garcia, an artist, educator, curator and author, operated the bookstore out of pushcarts and pop-up events in a rented stairwell before moving into a small warehouse in an alley off 4th and Spurgeon streets in 2018.

But running the bookstore out of the 190-square-foot warehouse hasn’t been easy in such a small space; the shop will close Sunday before reopening Jan. 7 at a new, larger location near the Bristol Swap Mall.

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Garcia opened LibroMobile in response to the closing of another iconic Santa Ana bookstore, Librería Martínez, which was founded by Chicano activist Rueben Martinez. It aims to build community, cultivate diversity and promote literacy by offering books and free art programming.

A woman puts books on shelves
Sarah Rafael Garcia arranges books inside the new LibroMobile location in Santa Ana that will open Jan. 7.
(Don Leach / Times Community News)

When she was first looking at the new space near the Bristol Swap Mall, Garcia said, she wanted to expand LibroMobile to two locations.

“The goal was to expand and not to close down the downtown location because I feel there is still a need to be there,” Garcia said. “There is this need to counter this idea of consumption versus literature.”

It also feels scary to leave a home she has spent so much time cultivating, she said.

“The warehouse has become this staple for downtown Santa Ana,” Garcia said. “We always offer free books to the community. We are always finding ways to work with our graffiti artist in the alleyway so we can promote collaboration versus criminalization. So it has been a long process of not just gaining patrons but respect and support from everyone.”

But in the end, Garcia decided to put all of her efforts into the bigger location.

“The new bookstore is going to definitely be more of what the people deserve,” Garcia said. “Our community deserves to have a nice bookstore that looks like them, sounds like them and feels like them.”

Now Garcia is looking forward to focusing her energy on making the new space, and she has tapped two local artists to help.

She has been collaborating with Jose Lozano and Carla Zarate to create a space that she describes as a bookstore gallery.

“So when people walk in, it is more than a bookstore. It is a curated literary experience,” Garcia said. “It will have Lozano art on the wall. It will have ‘SanTana’s Fairy Tales’ art by Carla Zarate on a long hallway.”

A woman puts books on a shelf
Marilynn Montano arranges books at the new LibroMobile location.
(Don Leach / Times Community News)

Garcia also envisions adding a digital archive room, with plans to start creating archives from the community for and by the community.

“And the hours are going to be longer. We will be open six days a week,” she said.

Garcia has big ambitions for LibroMobile in 2022. A literary festival to celebrate the bookstore’s four-year anniversary is planned for Jan. 15 at Santa Ana Heritage Museum, and she said a proper grand opening for the new location will follow.

“We are starting slow and steady,” she said. “We hope to do the grand opening in late February or early March.”

Garcia said that although the move has been emotional, she knows LibroMobile is on the right path.

“One of the reasons we are especially excited about moving to the Bristol Swap Mall plaza is because it is getting us deeper into the community we hope to serve.”


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