Meet Jesi Gutierrez, the co-owner of Libélula Books and Co. in San Diego, CA. Growing up, Jesi’s mom instilled a love for reading in her and her sisters, and they dreamt of one day opening their own bookstore. After Jesi lost her job working as an art integration teacher, she and her partner, Celi Hernandez, took the opportunity to open their community-first bookstore in the heart of Barrio Logan in 2021.
Stocked on their floor-to-ceiling shelves, you’ll find books in English and Spanish ranging from small press houses to self-published magazines about topics like Chicano history, transformative justice, cooking, feminism, and more. Libélula also has free Wi-Fi and keeps a shared laptop in the store that community members can access to write resumes, apply for jobs, and do schoolwork.
Get to know more about Jesi and Libélula Books and Co. in this week’s Business Spotlight Q&A.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s your favorite part about the neighborhood your business is in and why?
I love my neighborhood because we all look out for each other. A lot of us know each other by name, and I’ve lived on this specific block for over 10 years. I went and lived in the Bay area to continue my education, then did a little stint in Mexico, but then moved back quickly because it’s home. I love that we all know each other, we all keep an eye out for one another, and I still see a lot of my youth that I had in the classrooms, so it’s really nice to just feel that connection to them.
As a business owner, what’s the strangest or craziest idea you’ve ever tried?
We’ve tried everyone from wrapping books in newspaper to converting downstairs into an art gallery to hosting over 50 events already, and we’ve only been open for about eight months. We have DJs regularly at the bookstore — that’s fun [she laughs]. But the craziest thing, probably are my pop-up ideas. I want folks to get a sense of what the shop feels like when we’re out in the world […] and a part of that is really part of the overwhelming feeling that is part of my aesthetic in general. I just like a lot — I like a lot of extra. I want you to walk in and feel hugged by the books. So when we do pop-ups, even though you’re only allotted a 10 by 10 space, I bring over 108 crates, I zip tie them all together, and I build three walls of floor-to-top bookshelves. I love the immediacy of the crates, and it also reminds me of my childhood of the original entrepreneurs that are the immigrants and migrants in this community that do pop-ups every day.
Why is it important to you and your business that people #SpendLikeItMatters?
I think it matters more now than ever where we have large corporations that are completely not cognizant of the working class community and the people that make their businesses run […]. I think that we as consumers have a responsibility and also we should be led with our hearts to support folks that are trying to go against that huge wall of capitalism that feels impenetrable, and yet there are so many folks just on my block — I mean, we have over 30 female-owned and run businesses on this block. Those are women that are wild enough, radical enough, and courageous enough to go against that wall. And we’re only able to stay here and continue with that radicalness because of consumer support and our community support. I’m also the first business owner in my family, I’m also a first generation college student in my family. Both parties involved — myself as the shop owner and the person who’s coming in and getting books that are featuring voices of color, femmes, and nonbinary folks — we’re collectively doing some healing.