Women of Impact:  Jhoanna Belfer, Owner and Founder of Bel Canto Books

BEL CANTO BOOKS

Photo by Bel Canto Books

A love of books, a commitment to representation, and a genuine desire to bring community together is at the heart of Bel Canto Books, an independent bookstore located inside The Hangout in Long Beach, CA.  Owner Jhoanna Belfer, a Long Beach resident, Filipino-American poet, and a voracious reader at an early age, started monthly book club pop-ups with family and friends in 2018, gathering at a local wine bar.  Books at these pop-ups were handpicked by Jhoanna based on each participant’s preference.  These book club meetings expanded to a brewpub in Huntington Beach and eventually evolved into pop-up tables at local farmer’s markets and street fairs.

In the summer of 2019, Jhoanna left her corporate job to pursue her lifelong dream of owning a bookshop.  She joined a woman-owned shop collective called The Hangout.  She officially opened shop in November 2019, curating an expansive collection reflecting inclusion and diverse authors.  

In an interview with the Los Angeles Literature, Jhoanna shares: “I think for me, that’s kind of number one on our mission to make sure that we are offering books for our community that reflects our community. You know, I grew up as a Filipino American in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood and we didn’t have a lot of money, so we didn’t go to the bookstore. But the books that I remember reading as a child, either at the library or that we’d pick up at a garage sale were almost always [by] Caucasian authors– which I loved E.B. White. Trumpet of the Swan and Charlotte’s Web are two books I absolutely adore– and a lot of the children’s books that I read when I was a kid featured white characters, and I think that was just a function of the times. But now with so many authors and illustrators of color who are out there, I just feel like if we don’t do it, who else is going to?”

During the pandemic, Bel Canto Books shut down, following the county’s stay-at-home orders.  Jhoanna had to adapt and get creative to keep her business running and growing.  She started a book concierge service, recommending personalized reading recommendations to her customers and personally delivering it within the Long Beach area.  She also started hosting weekly online events for kids and adults, involving various authors and illustrators.  Book club meetings were conducted via zoom.  She partnered with other organizations to co-host a variety of events.

Her efforts to engage the community amidst the pandemic paid off.  Once Bel Canto Books re-opened their doors last year, it became a thriving literary hub for the community.  Apart carrying a variety of genres from non-fiction to fiction to children’s books, it is Johanna’s carefully curated book displays that bring in the literary crowd.

 Bel Canto Books

Photo by Bel Canto Books

“We’ve heard so much positive feedback from our customers and people who will literally say to me, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve never seen this many books for Asian kids in one place. I’ve never seen this many books for Latino kids in one place,” Jhoanna said. “And so that’s really important to us. I don’t think it’s something that you can quantify or measure, but I think that when you’re able to see yourself on the cover of a book or in a TV show, or as a president, it reinforces the idea that you can be that you can do those things. You know, even if you’re a poor kid from a bad neighborhood.”

For more information on their literary selections as well as events, visit the website at belcantobooks.net or follow them on Facebook and Instagram @belcantobooks.

Bel Canto Books

Photo by Bel Canto Books