Spring had started her mobile bookstore Duende District in 2017 at Artomatic after decades as a bookseller, book buyer, and sales manager in large and independent bookstores from Albuquerque to New York City and Washington, DC, where she ultimately felt communities of color were not being represented.
“Our voices were not being centered,” Spring says, adding too many books being stocked were meant to dissect or examine Latino, Black, Indigenous and Asian-American communities. “I wanted somewhere that would center us, center our voices and our community, and offer the books we wanted to read.”
For Spring, this means offering books that don’t just tell of the pain and struggle Black and Brown communities, but also reflect the joys and fullness of living life as a person of color. Duende District specializes in carrying new adult and children's books by BIPOC authors and illustrators in English and Spanish.
“I wanted to decolonize the bookstore space,” Spring said.
She didn’t aim for having a brick and mortar store to do it. Instead Duende District works with a popup model where she creates tiny roving bookstores with curated selections of books from a variety of genres and BIPOC authors. The books change depending on where she’s setting up, and whether it’s women, children, artists, romance lovers, sci-fi, etc…
In this personalized sales model Spring takes the bookstore to where it’s needed or where she feels the synergy. She offers popups everywhere from bookstores, restaurants, and festivals, to lobbies and cultural centers, and emphasizes collaborations where she partners with others to create events, build excitement and reach new audiences. She has held popups at BloomBars in Columbia Heights, the National Hispanic Cultural Center in New Mexico, Loyalty Bookstores in the DC area, Word Up Community Bookshop in Washington Heights in NYC, and also semi-permanent “boutique popups” inside other shops, including ShopKeepers DC near Union Market, and an Asian Diaspora bookstore popup at Toli Moli in Union Market.
“DC is a city of collaborations, and it’s a very beautiful thing.”
One of her favorite popup collaborations was with the City and Mayor of Hyattsville, MD during Latinx History Month, where high school students, most from immigrant families, were invited to enter her tiny bookstore.
“None of them had ever been in a bookstore before,” Spring said. “That’s what I love.”
Two years ago, Spring was reevaluating her own family life. She was pregnant and missing family. New Mexico was always home, so after 10 years on the East Coast she and her husband decided to move back in order to be closer to her mother. They would commute back and forth to Washington DC as needed, they thought. With Puerto Rican family in Brooklyn, and Panamanian family in Queens, she was used to traveling.
Then the pandemic hit.
The fact that a few months after her family moved a pandemic arrived that forced most of the world to work remotely was “a total accident,” Spring said. She actually had plane tickets for the end of February 2020 to visit two DC popups she had going, but suddenly everything got canceled. Anything physical got shut down immediately. Some popups inside other shops did not shut down right away, but when the pandemic went on and on, the businesses they were in did not always survive or stay open themselves, including a popup at Dio Wine Bar on H Street NE, and one at Walls of Books on Georgia Ave NW.
While everything seemed dire, and she worried about fellow women of color-owned bookstores surviving the pandemic, her popup bookstore model and preemptive move helped position her bookstore to make it “because we were built to be from anywhere and nowhere at the same time.”
In many ways, the bookstore is not only surviving the crisis but is now national after the pandemic.
One thing Spring did quickly was move many of her bookstore events online, gathering authors and speakers virtually when building community was most needed. An unexpected surprise was that she started seeing people from all over the country tune in, from New York to California. In one such virtual gathering of Latina romance authors based in Brooklyn with Mil Mundos Books and Cafe she got to sit right next to her mom who was enjoying the conversation and typing in the chat of the virtual gathering.
“To be able to have her share in the joy, and the pride and to be a part of it, was really special,” Spring said.
Another big step she took early on in the pandemic was to move all her book sales online thanks to a small grant from Save Indie Bookstores. She transitioned her sales to Bookshop.org, a mission-based company that builds in some profit going to indie bookstores and lower labor costs for smaller sellers like herself. Before the move to online sales, customers had to email her and then she would order or send them books. The online move allowed her to stay afloat.
And after the murder of George Floyd, people were looking for books on anti-racism, so that meant more people came to her store looking for books. She also rebranded the virtual store with her team: operations manager Nicole Capó Martínez; design and branding’s Christopher Greggs; graphic designer Josh Levi in St. Louis; and children’s buyer Stephanie Seales in Southern California. The rebranding was part of the move online and resulted in a simpler and more personal website.
“We wanted to reflect it’s Latinx-owned, and still continue our mission of being for and by people of color, where are all welcome,” Spring said.
The logo now has a sun as an ode to New Mexico, with yellow and red colors that make her happy. “It was like a burst of sunshine in the middle of all the darkness. It’s really representative now because our store is offering joy and bringing us together. We’re building community through representation and reading.”
Her family now lives on East Coast time, but from New Mexico. Fully vaccinated, she said she’s starting to see the other side of COVID as we move out of the pandemic. She’s also finally thinking of the future of her business. For starters, Spring and her team managed to keep Duende District open.
Spring is a poet and she named the store Duende inspired by Federico Garcia Llorca, who writes of duende as a sort of initial burst and mysterious force of inspiration that comes over a poet that allows her to create. And like the duende, also known as a magical gnome, her bookstore will appear and disappear as needed, and when you least expect it. The second half of the name, District, was in honor of DC where it was founded.
While she figures out the new post-COVID future, a brick and mortar store is still not the goal, in part due to how expensive DC is. While indie bookstores are the tastemakers and deciders of what gets sold, she said, they get squeezed out of real profits by the industry. Spring also doesn’t want to get so big that she loses control of how workers are paid and considered.
“When we tie ourselves to these physical spaces then we become these physical spaces … it’s like we’re trying to fit into these spaces vs. creating those spaces ourselves.”
Although restrictions are easing on travel and in-person events, she still sees virtual events being part of the future. Indeed on June 15, Duende District is helping create a very special space by hosting Lin-Manuel Miranda for a virtual book launch of “In the Heights: Finding Home,” a publication detailing the journey to the musical and new film.
And Spring does plan to keep growing the popup model because she doesn’t want to lose touch with the community, and right now there is a lot of catching up to do with in-person popups and collaborations - including new and old friends she met nowhere snd everywhere this past year.
“Collaborations are at the core of who we are, and will always be part of Duende,” Spring said. “And we’ll continue to reinvent and improve on the idea of what a bookstore can be.”
Current boutique popup locations:
DUENDE @ Shopkeepers
1231 Florida Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20002
Wed-Sat: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sun: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
DUENDE @ Red Planet Books & Comics in Albuquerque
1002 Park Ave. SW
Albuquerque, NM 87102
Wed-Fri: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Sat: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sun: 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.