Milwaukee’s Niche Book Bar launches crowdfunding campaign

In 2020, Cetonia Weston-Roy took to riding a modified tricycle outfitted with a bookshelf to parks and public events to promote Black literature around Milwaukee.

That came to fruition in 2022 when she purchased a city-owned, century-old, two-story building to be the home of Niche Book Bar, 1937 N. King Dr. Weston-Roy wanted a community space that combined a love of reading and wine for adults and a place to offer fun children’s activities during the day.

But construction woes and subpar work ran up costs, delaying the bookstore’s opening and leaving Weston-Roy needing an additional $125,000 to complete the project.

To raise funds, Weston-Roy kicked off a 30-day online fundraising campaign last month on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. She held a launch event at HoneyBee Sage Wellness and Apothecary, hosting a book swap as part of National Independent Bookstore Day.

Weston-Roy said she will raise the remaining through grants and what she calls “elbow grease.”

She plans to tackle some of the simple remodeling tasks herself and with the help of in-kind donations from the community to do light construction work. She’s looking for flooring installers, furniture movers and help with painting. The aim, she said, is to minimize cost that has nearly mushroomed to nearly $300,000.

“Elbow grease is pretty much how I explained it,” she said. “We are supplementing some of that cost with community support.”

For Weston-Roy, Niche Book Bar is more than just fulfilling her dream. It’s about providing a much-needed resource in the Black community. She said there’s one other Black-owned bookstore in Milwaukee, but there hasn’t been one in the Bronzeville area since the Reader’s Choice closed in 2017.

She added she hopes the bookstore will double as a launching pad for local authors while creating jobs in the area. If fundraising goes well, she expects to open in the fall.

“I just feel like this is a staple that is needed in the community and fundraising for this will make sure that we are open this year. it’s been a long time coming,” Weston-Roy said.

That delay comes from maneuvering through several botched remodeling jobs. She said her furnace, subfloor and framing were all done incorrectly.

Since then, she took the time to hire a consultant who helped her find a contractor. Now on her third contractor, work is progressing. She went with Braatz Building, which was the contractor on the Dubbel Dutch Hotel on North Marshall Street. She expects work to be done in three or four months once the funds are received.

“I think, at the end of things, it would be worth it,” Weston-Roy said. “Part of it was being so new to the process and really didn’t know what questions to ask.”

Weston-Roy expected some trials and tribulations but nothing on this scale. She advises other women business owners to take their time, don’t go with the cheapest bid and find a consultant who can help weed out bad contractors.

“It feels like you got this money from banks, and you want to get going,” she said. “You want to believe people have your best interest. A lot of people talk a big game. You have to take the time to make sure they can back up that big game.”