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Bookstore Crawl with Tri-Co Philly Program: Sofia Azuara '25

Hometown: Houston, TX
"Tri-Co Philly has provided me with the opportunity to dive deeper into Philadelphia and learn about these amazing, local circles such as its literary scene."

"Tri-Co Philly has provided me with the opportunity to dive deeper into Philadelphia and learn about these amazing, local circles such as its literary scene."

Sofia Azuara ‘25 (she/they), is a Creative Writing major from Houston, Texas. In addition to being a Tour Guide and Intern for enrollment communications, she is a Hall Advisor and a board member of The First Page —the Tri-Co Creative Writing Association. She is also a member of Mujeres* and Zami+, affinity groups on campus. Here, Sofia tells us about her experience with Bryn Mawr’s Tri-Co Philly program.  

Tri-Co Philly is a unique program available to students across the Tri-College Consortium, which includes Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore. Students choose two out of three of the program’s offered classes, all with a focus on the city of Philadelphia. Tri-Co Philly funds all the students' travel expenses as well as lunches. In addition, the program offers students an opportunity to interact with the city through monthly excursions, half of which the students organize themselves! This year we visited the Asian Arts Initiative, explored the Wagner Free Institute of Science, and toured Mother Bethel AME Church with a Murals & Morals Hood Tour on the calendar.   

The program begins with a short orientation in which students are split up into cohorts—each cohort is assigned a month, and the groups are tasked with finding a uniquely "Philly” experience for that month. Assigned to the March group, my classmates and I began to brainstorm ideas. We looked to the March weather to guide us in our deliberation. It wouldn't be the dead of winter which allowed us to comfortably be outdoors with a sweater on. It was then that I remembered the Philadelphia Bookstore Map that I had picked up in a grocery store the week before. I mentioned the map, and after some discussion we came to our decision—for our March excursion, we would plan a bookstore crawl.   

"Finding Our Happy" Mural at Giovanni's Room celebrates Queer Joy
"Finding Our Happy" mural at Giovanni's Room celebrates queer joy

We took some time to pore over the map and its illustrations, then selected a handful of shops that sounded the most interesting. Another student suggested that we stop mid-bookstore crawl for a sweet treat. With the help of Google Maps, we located a donut shop near the three bookstores. Soon after, we decided that our crawl would consist of four stops: Giovanni's Room, Wooden Shoe Books, Dottie’s Donuts, and Black and Nobel. Afterward, we planned to grab some lunch at South Street Souvlaki, a Greek restaurant down the street from our final store. Our program manager Calista Cleary  even procured money from the Tri-Co Philly fund so we’d have cash to spend on books.  Two weeks before the excursion, one of my group members reached out to each store to ask if during our visit someone could speak to us about the shop’s history—every store enthusiastically agreed. 


The day of the event was not too chilly and there was even a bit of sun peeking through the clouds—perfect early-spring walking weather! We began our day at Giovanni’s Room where we were met by an employee ready to welcome us and discuss the history of the store.  As we took in Giovanni’s abundantly filled shelves and bright-colored walls, we learned that it is the oldest LGBTQ and feminist bookstore in the country— the store invites people in through eye-catching window fronts (designed as miniature art installations) and helps to make visible the queer community in Philadelphia. Books are often displayed in the windows while the door is covered with flyers advertising local happenings within the Gayberhood and the greater city of Philadelphia. The street signs around the shop are often wrapped with knitted pride flags. When we arrived the exterior walls were decorated with a part of the artwork from a mural that is a part of Mural Arts Philadelphia celebrating queer happiness. The artwork includes black and white portraits of queer activist and references to the gay liberation movement framed by beautiful, crocheted flowers. Beyond selling books, they’ve expanded their inventory over the years to include music, comics, and clothing as well.   

Shelves with books and zines in the Wooden Shoe Bookstore on South Street
Shelves of books and community zines at Wooden Shoe Bookstore

After some perusing we said thank you, waved goodbye, and walked over to Wooden Shoe Books, a store collectively run by volunteers. Once there, we gathered by the entrance for our brief Wooden Shoe history lesson. A self-proclaimed anarchist bookstore, they seek to empower social justice movements through a vast collection of digital and print resources. I was intrigued by their memorabilia collection which included posters from protests, informational zines, and stickers. The volunteers eagerly chatted with us and answered all our questions. My friend found a book on a topic her political science class had been discussing and I left the store with a free zine, “To Change Everything: an Anarchist Appeal.” After the Wooden Shoe, we made our dessert stop, Dottie’s Donuts, an all-vegan donut shop where our group of fifteen practically cleared out their stock. I was feeling adventurous and went for a banana brown sugar donut that I devoured in under five minutes.  

With the sugar acting as a pick-me-up, we made our way to Black and Nobel. We accidentally walked right past the store because it doesn’t look like your typical bookstore. On top of selling books, they sell health and wellness supplies including skin and hair products. When we entered the store, we were met by the fragrant aroma of the products and an employee who welcomed us with a big cheer. We were intrigued and immediately drawn to the products displayed on their shelves—we even got to try out some moisturizer that made our hands incredibly soft. While browsing the books, we learned that the store ships books to prisons. Family members come into the store to share their stories with the owner and founder who handles all the shipping. Like the other bookstores we visited, Black and Nobel is a Philadelphia staple that has long served its community.  

Dottie's Donuts is a vegan bakery in Philly
Dottie's Donuts for a vegan sweet treat

Philadelphia is a city rich with culture and history that is well reflected in its bookstores. Over the semester, I have come to understand the value of learning about the city and its communities, even if you are only there for four years. As one of Bryn Mawr’s signature interdisciplinary programs, Tri-Co Philly has provided me with the opportunity to dive deeper into Philadelphia and learn about these amazing, local circles such as its literary scene. Without it, even though I had the map, I may not have found the time to visit them in my busy college schedule. Something I will forever treasure about this program is the way time is carved out of the curriculum to explore the city and connect with its culture.  


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