Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

Lit Up

Story by Malanie McLellan. Photos by Elyse Butler.

A Hawai‘i publishing fixture for almost forty years, Bess Press has released some three hundred titles, including Island touch-stones and beloved local children’s lit. But it’s just begun a new chapter by opening Da Shop, an independent bookstore that’s “taking print beyond the page,” says David DeLuca, co-owner and director of publishing at Bess Press. DeLuca aims to create more than just a warm, quaint neighborhood bookstore (though Da Shop is certainly that) on the bottom floor of its office space in Kaimukī. Da Shop is a community gathering space for book clubs, film screenings, lectures, readings and events (kids yoga, anyone?).

DeLuca says opening a community bookshop is the obvious next step for a local, family-owned press that he characterizes as a “small independent publisher in a sea of giants.” Given digital reading habits and national trends that disadvantage bricks-and-mortar bookshops, the deck is seriously stacked against success. But it isn’t only about profit for DeLuca. “We want to make the connection more wholesome between readers and the authors we engage,” he says. To nurture that connection, Da Shop brings in both local and national writers; recently, renowned American poet Naomi Shihab Nye read her work and led a writing workshop for children. DeLuca also fosters community by including other neighborhood businesses in events; most recently Da Shop collaborated with one of Kaimukī’s favorite coffee shops, The Curb. While best-selling author Dave Eggers read from his newest book about the coffee trade, The Curb served up tastings of the very beans being discussed.

With the opening of Da Shop in Kaimukī, long-time Honolulu publishing house Bess Press is bucking the national trend against the success of small, independent bookstores. “Print is not dead,” says Bess Press’ co-owner David DeLuca. “We are a testament to that.”

Because “kids who read become adults who think,” says DeLuca, Da Shop is heavy on Hawai‘i- and Pacific-themed children’s classics as well as award-winning kid lit from beyond the Pacific. Bess Press titles are featured prominently but not exclusively on the shelves; Da Shop carries an eclectic young adult section, national and international best-sellers and a selection of magazines and quarterlies. With an interior dotted with cozy reading nooks and a coloring table with locally designed puzzles for kids, Da Shop feels more like a friend’s living room than a retail space. It’s a retreat that invites readers to stay and relax among the faux clouds, strings of star lights, art and, of course, wall-to-wall books. “Print is not dead,” says DeLuca. “We are a testament to that.”