Every Thursday night for the past year, more than two dozen Hobokenites have gathered at the Symposia Bookstore on Willow Avenue for its weekly thought-provoking "Community Roundtable." Common topics of discussion have included religion, life, literature, and living in Hoboken. The word is spreading.
Symposia is the little bookstore where everybody knows your name. With a small storefront smack in the middle of the mile-square city and one spacious general room containing books and computers, it has been able to restore many Hobokenites' sense of community by offering friendly service, literary readings, discussions, movies, volunteer opportunities, and lectures.
The walls are covered with work from local artists and there are multiple shelves with used books pertaining to a vast range of topics. Lounge chairs are scattered, and a clerk is present to assist patrons with their concerns.
Led by General Manager Cornel Rusu's vision, for more than a year Symposia has been one of the few places in town providing residents with continuous literary activities and art exhibits. The only used bookstore in Hoboken, Symposia offers the public free internet access and events every week. Donations are always accepted, according to Rusu, and they're tax deductible.
How it began
Some people erroneously believe that the store is a "religious" bookstore, but that's because it began that way. The Hoboken Faith Community Church on Willow Avenue opened Symposia two summers ago originally as a venue for religious books. In response to the community's needs and recommendations, Rusu has altered Symposia's original vision to fit that of the people. Funding for the bookstore is provided by the church, book sales and monetary contributions.
"The community wanted a place to interact and share ideas, and that is what we are giving them," Rusu said.
Get creative in 2003
Current weekly events include "Movie Madness" on Saturdays at 8 p.m.; "Employment Group" on Sundays at 5 p.m., "Salon" on Wednesdays at 7 p.m., and "Poetry Night" the second Friday of the month.
Next month, the folks at Symposia will offer another course of "The Artist's Way," every Tuesday night from Jan. 14 through April 1 for $225. The seminar will be the fourth time writer and life coach Nancy Colasurdo will facilitate the 12-week comprehensive course designed to motivate, spark creativity and educate people about constructive positive lifestyles at the bookstore. The course was created by nationally renowned self-help author Julia Cameron. Colasurdo said she is happy to be involved with the bookstore and to be offering her seminar. This winter she expects to attract more than a dozen people for her course to experience fulfilling and uplifting living guidelines.
"The bookstore attracts a stimulating mix of people that are enjoyable to work with," Colasurdo said. "This is one of Hoboken's best kept secrets."
Earlier this month, writer, journalist, bookdealer and author of Chomsky for Beginners, David Cogswell agreed to be the moderator for Symposia's "Chomsky Night," an evening of discussion about world-renowned linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky. Through a dynamic collage of biography, archival gems, and imaginative graphics, Cogswell discussed Chomsky to the more than 20 people who attended the event on Dec. 6.
"People come here to engage in dialogue," Rusu said. "We develop projects for the community, and those ideas become reality."
Other previous workshops include "Stress: Beyond Coping" by Dr. Gaspar Colon; "How to Start a Conversation and Make New Friends" by Don Gabor; "White Privilege" by Donna Lamb; "Intimacy in the Postmodern Age" by Willie Oliver; and "Instant Acting" by John C. Havens.
A new program at Symposia is "Hoboken Kids in Poverty Project." Coordinated by Symposia volunteer and longtime Hobokenite Tracey Barry, the program is designed to help the community's needy kids ensure they enjoy healthy meals at night.
"The program is meant to achieve solutions to poverty crisis and child hunger," said Barry.
Still in its early stages, Barry is seeking sponsors, but residents are encouraged to drop off food, clothing and toys at the bookstore.
Symposia also has been helping by volunteering at the Hoboken Homeless Shelter at 300 Bloomfield St. and offering unemployed residents tips on how to find jobs.
Wednesday and Thursday nights
Symposia's marquee event has become the Thursday night roundtable discussions starting at 7 p.m. The bookstore offers an open forum every Wednesday night, but it is much more informal than Thursday.
"Thursday nights at Symposia have become the opportunity to discover who you are," Rusu said.
The "Community Roundtable," as it's come to be known, provides an enriching and stimulating experience to participants. Each week a different facilitator leads the group, making for a colorful and varied mix of topics and styles.
"People go a little bit deeper with themselves," said Jacques Lamour, a Symposia volunteer who regularly leads the roundtable discussions.
Thursday nights, locals have tackled explorations into childhood, the meaning of life, and what makes people admirable. The bookstore crackles with energy on Thursdays as people from all ages and cultural backgrounds gather and converse.
"People can discuss what they want in a safe and nurturing environment and leave with a sense that all is well," said Lamour.
Symposia's mission is to foster personal and community growth, Rusu said. Rusu hopes the bookstore continues to cater to the community's interests and needs.
"We are willing to help," Rusu said. "At Symposia, people are connecting and establishing relationships."
Tonight (Thursday, Dec. 12), from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., Symposia will host an "End-of-Year" bash at Willie McBride's Bar and Restaurant at 616 Grand St. in Hoboken. A $7 donation will include buffet and a cash bar. Proceeds will go to benefit the bookstore, Rusu said.
Symposia Bookstore is located at 511 Willow Ave. in Hoboken. For more information, call (201) 963-0909 or visit www.symposia.us. Their hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. It is open on the weekends for special events. q