Chapman rescues landmark store

MacArthur Fellow says Libreria Martinez will not change and will operate under same philosophy

n bustling downtown Santa Ana, Rueben Martinez stands next to a freshly hung banner, drawing attention from curious onlookers as they notice an addition to the bookstore’s name: Libreria Martinez de Chapman University.

After facing financial hardship the last five years, the bookstore was almost forced to close its doors. With the help of Chapman University, closing the bookstore is highly unlikely, Martinez said.

But nothing much has changed. His warmhearted smile welcomes customers as they make their way into the store. He shows a caring nature gently laying each book on the counter top.

A soft grandfatherly voice follows “que tenga buen dia,” as the customer makes her way out the door.

It’s hard to not feel the sincerity of the staff and of the bookstore itself. A bountiful array of rich colors permeates all corners: chili red, radiant gold, and aqua blues contribute to the store’s relaxing Latino vibe.

“This bookstore is like my heart. To close it is like tearing my heart out and you can’t live without a corazón. This is my love … so now the mountain goes to Mohammad and they own the bookstore now,” said Martinez, who is a presidential fellow at Chapman.

After graduating from high school, Martinez left his hometown of Miami, Arizona with hopes of finding a brighter future in Southern California.

He worked at a market in East Los
Angeles while taking two-and-a-half hour bus rides to and from Santa Ana College to attend lectures.

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In 1961, Martinez read in a Reader’s Digest magazine that Mexicans spent more money on chewing gum than books, so he took it upon himself to start reading more.

Martinez opened a barbershop that showcased his passion: a bookshelf with his latest reading. He would soon learn that others in his community shared the same enthusiasm. Customers would read his treasures while waiting for their haircuts.

After Martinez’s book collection grew, he closed the shop and opened his first bookstore in 1993.

Although not a college graduate, Martinez was the recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship award, also known as the “genius” grant, in 2004. He is also considered an intellectual among his colleagues.

“He’s always been a street fighter for learning and literacy. That’s Rueben’s thing,” said Sara Lundquist, vice-president of student services.

“By creating this incredibly rich world of literacy and learning and family centeredness, Rueben and Libreria Martinez have become a cultural hub for the community.”

Lundquist has worked closely with Martinez over the past years, most recently organizing the launch party for the Measure Q campaign, a bond on the Nov. 6 ballot that would benefit SAC.

“The establishment of Libreria Martinez de Chapman University will provide a base from which Chapman faculty and students will enhance literary and learning opportunities for Santa Ana residents,” said Don Cardinal, dean of Chapman’s College of Educational Studies.

The bookstore will celebrate its grand reopening and Chapman’s nonprofit partnership on Oct 27. “The tradition continues,” Martinez said.

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