Symposia Bookstore: A Hidden Gem on Washington 

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Knowing what books someone reads is like getting a glimpse into the deepest depths of their brains — what excites them, what makes them tick — the works. Now, imagine you could get a peek into what local residents read throughout the year {and essentially, their brain} — in person. Well, at Symposia in Hoboken, that’s exactly what you get. Carmen Rusu, owner and operator of Symposia, describes the store as just that, “a reflection of what Hoboken reads throughout the year.” Read on for a closer look at one of Washington Street’s surprisingly hidden gems, Symposia Bookstore, a local bookshop, and non-profit in Hoboken, located at 510 Washington Street.

symposia bookstore

About Symposia

Symposia Bookstore is a public benefit nonprofit corporation run exclusively for educational and charitable purposes. The store has many functions, but its main goal is to offer a sense of community through reading, arts, and learning within Hoboken and the surrounding areas. This mission has been carried out over the past 18 years — as it is a second-hand bookstore with over 1,500 books sold annually at extremely affordable rates.

See More: 6 Local {Hoboken + Jersey City} Authors + Books to Read in 2019

How It Came to Be

symposia carmen

{Photo credit: @symposiabookstore}

^ Carmen Rusu! 

Symposia opened its doors in 2001 on Willow Avenue to provide a platform for artists in the area to share their passions with the community and give residents a place to come together, read, and discuss their findings. Carmen and her husband Cornel were both professors in Romania and wanted to bring their love of educating others to the U.S. After three years in business, Symposia relocated to Washington Street in 2004 where they took over the campaign office of former Hoboken Mayor David Roberts.

As a gesture to keep the store functional, Mr. Roberts offered Symposia a rent price similar to the Willow Avenue location in the new storefront so that the business could experience the increase in foot traffic without the increase in rent. For the past 15 years, Symposia has thrived through donations of books, theatre classes, birthday parties, and the beloved puppet shows hosted by Puppetonia.

About Puppetonia 

symposia puppetonia

Puppetonia is a puppet show brand owned by Carmen and Cornel. “We have over 100 scripts written,” shares Carmen. “We make the shows fun and interactive for the children while keeping adults engaged with subtle adult humor throughout the show.” Most of the scripts are written by Cornel while all performances are done by Carmen herself. Every weekday morning at 10:00AM and 11:00AM, families are invited to watch the puppet show in-store. The show costs $17 to attend and children are entertained for the hour through songs, educational stories, problem-solving, and interactive fun. 

Carmen showed us the puppets that she and her husband make and purchase to bring the scripts to life —  there are dozens of props and characters stored on shelves that line the walls. Looking at many of them, it’s easy to see the years of love and excitement these puppet shows continue to bring to the community.

Read More: 4 Must-Read Books for a September Book Binge — Found Locally

Local Events at Symposia

symposia bookstore hoboken

In addition to the puppet shows, Symposia holds various events regularly. The calendar is often filled with open mic nights, conversation groups, book signings, and more. 

Every Wednesday, Carmen teaches a free yoga class at 7:00PM. The website is updated with events or locals can stop in to inquire as there are always new classes providing opportunities to hone new skills. Residents can also host private events in the store and, because of the mission to provide a platform for passions, Symposia will advertise the event for residents. 

Carmen reflected on her favorite private event held in the store — a wedding. “We have had three couples meet here through coming to our events regularly.” Carmen went on to tell us that one couple was so thankful to have met one another through their shared interest in reading at Symposia, that they decided to have the wedding in the store. This is a testament to the community that Symposia has built within Hoboken.

A Community Focus

Symposia is run with the help of volunteers and donations as Carmen is the only full-time, paid employee on staff. Ron, a long-time volunteer was in the store when we stopped by. He explained that he got involved with volunteering because he was in the store so often that Carmen asked if he wanted to volunteer regularly and he accepted. “We meet a lot of different people here,” Ron stated when sharing about what has kept him involved with the store for so long. 

Symposia also receives help during the school-year from Stevens University students as they offer part-time positions as a part of the University’s Work-Study program. The students are able to work at the store and take home free books, as needed.

Symposia is looking for local residents to be a part of the community by volunteering regularly. Stop by the store {at 510 Washington Street} to speak with Carmen about opportunities to get involved. Residents can drop off book donations during business hours which are seven days a week from 12:00-6:00PM.  

Have you visited Symposia bookstore yet? Let us know in the comments! 

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Jordan and Joelle are true Jersey Girls. Originally hailing from down the shore in Hazlet, NJ, the girls made their "rite of passage" move to Hoboken a few short years after graduating with degrees in Communications from Loyola University. Outside of their 9-5 as senior publishers in NYC, the twins can be found walking their yorkie-poo Chica, working out at the best hot yoga studios, or trying out the best restaurants in town. Like many 20-somethings, Jordan and Joelle are balling on a budget and know how to score the best deals around town!