Inspired by the Harry Potter book, bookstore and leisure space: educational activities to encourage children to read, in a Columbian setting inspired by Italy
In 2015, when Susana Pérez Toro founded the 9 ¾ Bookstore + Café in Medellín, she felt that Colombia lacked a proper coffee culture. Visiting Italy the year before, she had found out that coffee was more than a breakfast beverage. Stepping into a café in Florence, Susana Toro was surprised to see bookshelves lined up beside the coffee tables, and before realizing it, she found herself in the middle of a book launch event. She was not familiar with the idea of a literary café, and felt fascinated by it. After going back to Medellín, she was determined to get past the cultural gap and implement that concept in her hometown. Driven by her love for children, she imagined a European-inspired café that would not only provide a wide selection of books and toys for children but would also host cultural events and workshops.
In Susana Toro’s vision, entering her bookshop would give customers the feeling of a passage from the urban greyness to the rich world of literature; hence,the name of the store had to reflect this feeling. Susana looked for inspiration in children’s literature, and the famous platform 9 ¾ from the Harry Potter series seemed like an apt metaphor. To make her vision unfold, she entrusted Plasma Nodo, a local design studio, with the whole project. They set two objectives: to create a children space where adults will feel welcomed, and to give it a unique character that would also engage non-readers. One of Susana Toro’s biggest concerns is the carbon footprint of the books she sells. «At 9 ¾ we believe that books leave traces of reflection and learning that somehow compensate for their environmental footprint», she writes on the store’s website. Nonetheless, soon after opening her bookshop, she started a campaign to raise consciousness about the environmental impact of books, and she decided to cut off all the plastic covers. Besides reducing the use of plastic, this choice allows customers to open,, touch, and fully experience the books before purchasing. According to this philosophy, all toys and items sold at the store are made with plastic-free, organic materials selected to develop the children skills respecting their health and the planet.
Among the cultural events that take place in 9 ¾ Bookstore + Café’s, there is a monthly book club for children, cooking workshops, Lego sessions, and book launchings. Susana Toro’s commitment to books enhanced to the point of launching a 9 ¾ Podcast, where children can listen to audiobooks and bedtime stories. Other contents are interviews with Colombian editors, illustrators, and writers about their jobs, the challenges of children literature, and the latest publications; some of the guests were editor María Fernanda Paz-Castillo and illustrator Paula Ortíz. Colombia has been struck hard by the pandemic, so the physical store had to close for six months, and the condition has not yet returned to normality. 9 ¾ Bookstore + Café survived thanks to its website: as people were being forced to stay at home, they started to read more and looked for toys, puzzles, and a variety of games for their children.
In 2018, the bookstore moved a few thousand meters from its first location, but its original design remained consistent. Today, the bookstore is divided into two distinct areas: outside the proper store, natural light floods into a play area through the surrounding glass walls. The hexagonal wooden niches, resembling beehives, serve as bookshelves, toy boxes, or hiding places for children, while hundreds of books hang from the black ceiling. At the entrance of the store, the picture of American children’s author Dr. Seuss welcomes the customers as they step in. Here, the café and the bookstore merge into a single space dominated by natural wood. Among the round coffee tables, any object within children’s reach – like a wooden ladder – serves as a bookcase. The pale tones of the seats and counter give off a European sense, while the tropical vegetation which covers one of the walls stands as an emblem of the Colombian landscape.A central staircase leads to the second floor, which is entirely dedicated to books and overlooks the first floor with glass walls. The neighboring room, characterized by a more neutral design, hosts workshops, cultural events, and, on request, birthday parties.IMAGE GALLERY
9 ¾ Bookstore
Vda. El Penasco