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Niche Book Bar, the only Black-owned bookstore in Wisconsin, sells books and wine via bike

Remember bookmobiles? Cetonia Weston-Roy has created one, though it is on a bike.

Maybe on a Wednesday or Saturday you’ve seen her riding around on a big blue tricycle with a yellow box attached.

That yellow box is a book bar housing the works of Black authors which Cetonia sells at outdoor markets like the Riverwest Gardeners Market and Alice's Garden artisan market.

Cetonia says she chose a tricycle on purpose. “I found a tricycle because I knew I wanted that vintage look,” Cetonia explains.

Originally Cetonia wanted to sell her books at a brick and mortar store but it wasn’t in her immediate cards.

“I was going through getting funding and it was looking like I was going to be approved, and then Covid hits," Cetonia says. "And suddenly the year looks really different. I know for sure. I'm not getting a brick and mortar. So my pivot solution was like, Okay, well, what can I do that's mobile.”

Cetonia Weston-Roy with a customer at her portable bookmobile | Photo courtesy of Cetonia Weston-Roy

She knew couldn’t afford a van but she got the idea for a bike-mobile from someone else.

“I saw a guy with an ice cream like a freezer, and it wasn't really even a really fancy bike,” Cetonia says. “It kind of looked like he took a freezer, and he built it up himself. So when I saw that, I was like, ‘Oh, well, yeah, I think I can figure out how to get a bookstore on a bike.’”

Cetonia found a three-wheeled cycle that fit what she wanted and with a local woodworker creating the book bar needed, she was up and running. 

Though, the brick and mortar isn’t out of the question for Cetonia. She plans on opening a physical location where customers can read books without pressure to buy; almost like a library with the added benefits of wine and tea. She even has a few specialty teas lined up already. She collaborated with a local tea maker to create them.

“I went to Swaye Tea and I told her, ‘I want to do a tea that steeps red that's maybe a little spicy and has a surprising flavor,’” Cetonia describes. “So she put together hibiscus, a couple of hot peppers and I think it's lemon peel or zest in it. And so that's my thriller tea.”

Cetonia considers herself a geek. She likes anime, sci-fi and speculative fiction. She came up with the idea for the shop as she wanted to see more Black characters that she could find herself in, that didn’t have their lives focus on Black pain and struggle. Hearing those stories has been a lifelong desire. So she figured why not sell books that have a diverse range of stories. She sells her favorite genres of sci-fi and fiction along with religion and spirituality, romance, history. A little bit of everything because she means everything, even finance. She’s hoping to reach even people who have said in the past they aren’t fans of books or certain genres.

In order to do so, she joined Black sci-fi groups and book clubs looking for the titles she carries, spreading Niche Book Bar by word of mouth along the way. 

Now she’s launching a Kickstarter to help her open that brick and mortar store.

“It's not going live until Nov. 1,” Cetonia says. “So I am going to still open a brick and mortar and it is going to have all of those elements. But also it'll be new and used books for sale. I want to have a little bit of everything, you know, to help.”

She’s helping the community at large fall in love books by Black authors of all sorts.