Syrena Arevalo-Trujillo

Syrena Arevalo-Trujillo opened Barrio Books in January 2021 at Hotel McCoy, 720 W. Silverlake Road.

Are you looking for a Spanish-language picture book for the little one in your life this holiday season?

Are you a student hoping to explore your heritage by reading Lydia Otero during winter break?

Stop by Barrio Books, located in Hotel McCoy, and — if you live south of Broadway Boulevard — coming soon to a location near you.

It’s not that Barrio Books is in expansion mode. It is in “let’s-meet-our-readers-where-they-live” mode.

Barrio Books owner Syrena Arevalo-Trujillo explains:

“I started four years ago, selling my own books at neighborhood events here on the south side,” she explained. “I really liked it. I loved seeing the faces of people who recognized the books. I loved seeing how excited kids would get when they got one. Even when I was lucky enough to start my own store, I wanted to keep doing my neighborhood events. These people are my friends now.”

Barrio Books is open six days a week at Hotel McCoy, 720 W. Silverlake Road. With her husband literally minding the store, Arevalo-Trujillo then takes her “pop-up shop” to one or two weekend markets each month. Particularly in December, with holiday fairs, she’s staying busy.

Arevalo-Trujillo grew up near the Tucson Rodeo Grounds and attended Tucson High. She is an alumna of the University of Arizona. Not surprisingly, her bookstore is uniquely Tucson.

It is dedicated almost exclusively to Hispanic authors and Hispanic topics. About three-fourths of her books are used. Forty percent are written in Spanish.

“I want the people of our community to know this is a space that represents them, that represents us,” Arevalo-Trujillo said. “You can find the same books now and then at other bookstores, but here everything is in one place. All of us should be able to see ourselves in the books we read. We want our store to be a gateway to reading.”

Arevalo-Trujillo’s world has had books in it for as long as she can remember. Even when she was young she loved them. Her go-to bookstores were The Book Stop on North Fourth Avenue and the old Bookmans store on East Grant Road.

“I always saw myself becoming a librarian,” she recalled. “I worked at the library in high school. I just liked being surrounded by books.”

Eventually, she was surrounded by so many of them, something had to give. “I ran out of space in my house for all the books I had,” Arevalo-Trujillo said. “I couldn’t throw them away — no book deserves to die in a landfill — so I started selling my books on weekends.”

Her first “pop-up” store was at the grand opening of American Eat Co. on South Fourth Avenue in 2018. She would take a table and crates of books to Second Saturday events downtown. She went to a weekend mercado in Phoenix.

“I learned a lot about pop-ups during Second Saturdays,” Arevalo-Trujillo remembered, “especially during the monsoon season.”

In fall 2020, a friend told Arevalo-Trujillo that Hotel McCoy — recently re-formatted by then-general manager, now president Nicole Dahl — was seeking a bookseller to open a shop in the hotel.

When the two women met, Dahl shared her vision for a hotel bookshop. Arevalo-Trujillo presented her plan. It was a match made in book-lover heaven, and Barrio Books opened in a converted hotel room — rent free — in January 2021.

“I think books and travel go hand-in-hand,” Dahl explained. “Look around you on the plane. Isn’t everyone reading? There is a bookstore in every airport. Why not have one in a hotel? I love books more than anything in the world. I’ve dreamed of owning a bookstore. Now we have this dreamy bookstore in our hotel.”

Hotel guests receive a discount in the bookshop, and Arevalo-Trujillo said she has met visitors from across the U.S. and a number of countries overseas. Many travelers see the store as a portal to understanding the cultural roots of Tucson.

Arevalo-Trujillo guesses about half of Barrio’s sales are made at the store, half at weekend events.

Both sides of the business lean heavily on Arevalo-Trujillo’s family. Her husband, a musician and music teacher, takes shifts behind the counter. Her mother helps. Her sister helps.

“My family has been very supportive,” Arevalo-Trujillo said. “Not just helping me with the store, but encouraging me to put myself out there. I’ve always been an introvert. Remember, I wanted to be a librarian.”

Arevalo-Trujillo will be “out there” again this weekend. She and Barrio Books will take part in Las Mujeres Verdes Market 2-6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, at Midtown Farm, 3538 E. Ellington Place.


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