Even under the best of times, running a bookstore is no easy task. Turning a profit on zines is even tougher. So when Charissa Lucille (they/them) learned that Wasted Ink’s building in Phoenix, Arizona, was getting hit with a 25% rent increase — during a pandemic no less — they made the tough decision to close up shop. After putting the zines, books, and furniture into storage, Charissa took a deep breath and started making plans for the future. They knew this wasn’t the end of Wasted Ink Zine Distro, so Charissa decided to put their energy into online sales, then reopen a brick and mortar store when the time was right.
Ten days later they heard from their friend, Chawa Magaña, who owns Palabras Bilingual Bookstore. Just like WIZD, Palabras had recently decided to change locations, and had now found the perfect space. Chawa asked Charissa if Wasted Ink would want to share that space.
I talked with Charissa about Wasted Ink’s new chapter.
What was going through your head when Chawa asked you to open up a store with her?
Well, you know, she invited me down to the space just to see her bookstore area and what space was available. We started talking about building this literary hub. And I just felt like I needed someone to pinch me. I didn’t feel like it was real.
When did you get that feeling?
When I saw the space, I was really excited. But as we began to talk about all the details, and logistics, that’s when I really started to get excited, because I really try not to get excited about things that might not happen. Once we had some concrete details in place, that’s when it was like a bolt of lightning, you know, just like, “Holy crap, this could actually happen. And be amazing. And be everything that it needs to be.”
It happened so fast, too. It was like a whirlwind for you the last couple weeks, couple months.
Definitely. When I had to close the distro, it was a really dark month for me. I knew the changes were happening at my old location, but I was holding onto hope that I wouldn’t have a rent raise, that I could still make it work, that the construction would only improve my space, those sort of hopes. I was really hoping for the best. And when those things didn’t happen, I felt super defeated. Thankfully, my family and my husband really helped keep me in high spirits. But it was a hard feeling, especially the way it happened. So to have it turn around in such a positive way, so quickly, I told my husband that I have emotional whiplash from feeling so down and then feeling so extremely excited and hopeful. Those are just two very different ends of the spectrum. But so many community members stepped in and helped. Because obviously I wasn’t expecting to move and incur the costs of starting a business up again.
You didn’t get the extended vacation that you were planning on after closing.
No. It’s kind of a good thing and a bad thing, blessings in disguise. I was hoping for like, six months. Let the pandemic calm down, let everyone hopefully get vaccinated as quickly as possible. Then find a space and start up again. And but you know, this allows the momentum to continue instead of dwindle. And I think that was a really good thing. I said I would do this for five years, and then decide if it was really feasible to continue. And last month I thought that decision had been made for me, that maybe it was time to close down. But then a lot of things happened very quickly, and the universe said, “Nope, you’re not done yet, kiddo! You get back in there!” So here I am, starting all over again.
The universe said, “Nope, you’re not done yet, kiddo! You get back in there!”
Can you explain and describe the layout of the new space?
It’s in a residential area, so across the street there’s lots of houses. But (our space is) kind of a house itself. It’s basically three living spaces that are all connected. Originally there were two houses on two different lots and an artist in the ’80s came and bought them both and connected them with a gigantic house in the middle, with really tall ceilings and a beautiful fireplace. It’s just beautiful. The floors are all Saltillo Mexican tile. There are also areas of the home that have wooden floors, which is crazy to see in Phoenix. Some of the spaces have attics and basements, which is also very rare. And it’s kind of shaped like a U because there’s one house on the side and then the house on the back and then the house on the other side and there’s a courtyard in the middle and what they’ve done is painted a big, big mural on the front and planted herbs and roses and aloe all in the entryway right when you walk in.
How does the retail space work?
Unit one is currently rented to other tenants. And then Unit two is Palabras. They have the back section and then Suite Three is Wasted Ink, Pachanga Press, and Abalone Mountain Press. It is technically a house that it’s been zoned for commercial use because it’s in the art district.
How long have you known Chawa?
I have known Chawa for about five years, because she started her bookstore the same time that Wasted Ink started. And I remember setting a zine table out upfront at her old location, her first location, about five years ago.
Did you know the other store owners before this?
Oh, yes. Denise with Pachanga Press is one of my good friends. She’s been involved with the Phoenix Zine Fest all five years. And an intern at Wasted Ink as well. She’s a painter, a sculptor. And she’s just an amazing risograph printer. She’s always wanted to get a space to do risograph printing and sell toys. She makes amazing things. And I’ve known Amber for a really long time through zines. Amber’s with Abalone Mountain Press. We’ve done a lot of workshops together as well.
Yeah, it’s kind of nice, because Palabras is established, I’m established, and we can kind of boost the three other companies that are just starting here.
Yeah, it’s good for them. It’s good for you.
Compared to having your own stand-alone store, why do you want Wasted Ink in that type of environment?
I think the people who come to Wasted Ink definitely benefit from a variety of businesses that are neighbors to Wasted Ink. Having one place where you can talk about printing zines, then selling them, or if you want to discuss publishing in a more traditional sense you can hop over to Palabras and talk about that. The benefits of a literary hub are that one-stop shop, where you can really immerse yourself in the literary world. But additionally, all the different workshops that Amber does, that Denise will do, that Palabras has always done, I think people will benefit in so many different ways. Without competition or anything weird like that. Because it is a very collective mindset, even though there is some hierarchical structure here, just for necessity. But people will really benefit from the niche variety.
There’s just a little bit more depth to our mission.
I’m sure it’s been more complicated because of the pandemic and everything. But it’s exciting because it gives you, and everyone else, something to look forward to, and something to work towards. A goal to be hopeful about.
Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. Even yesterday, someone said that watching me reopen and rebuild the district has given them a lot of hope. And hearing that was just more fuel behind me because I think that right now people need something to look forward to and to hold on to as far as hope goes, because a lot of them have been inside for over a year, or working in really kind of dangerous circumstances.
Let’s talk about the Wasted Ink space. What’s your store like?
It’s pretty large, I would say it’s like a massive-sized bedroom. It has five large windows. It has this reading nook area. It’s kind of like two rooms. The reading nook area is where the library is, and that just makes my heart very happy to expand the space where the zine library is. So people can sit down and grab a stack of zines and dive in. Because the zine library is just such an asset, a valuable thing for the community to have. In the last place that was kind of shoved in the back, and wasn’t celebrated as much as I wanted it to be.
Is this space bigger than your old space?
Oh, it’s about double the space.
Oh, wow. That’s great. Knowing that you were going from the smaller space to the larger space, how did your mind approach that? What improvements did you want to make?
At the old space, there wasn’t a lot of storage. So we just kept packing zines in there, which was awesome. And I have a really great place in my heart for that space. But I wanted to clean it up and have it be more intentional and specific. I wanted to be more intentional with the zines I carry. In the past few years I’ve slowly been switching and changing inventory. I want to better represent BIPOC creators, LGBTQIA+ creators, disabled and chronically ill people as well as neurodivergent people. So I did a call for creators who make things that fall into those categories. And I’m still sifting through emails. I probably got close to 60 emails from people (from) all over the world who fit in those categories and have those identities and who want to sell at Wasted Ink. That’ll take me a while, because I really want to make the right decisions and look through thoroughly and respond thoughtfully.
I really look forward to collaborating with my neighbors.
Since you’re based in Arizona, I know you have at least some sort of focus on Arizona-created things right?
I carry work from different states and countries, as well. But I do prioritize local Arizona work.
How do you find that balance between local and non-local?
I just make sure that my ratio is about 50% local creators. I’m always looking for new people who are making zines, who fit within our mission. And then just encouraging everyone that comes in here who’s local to make their own zines, and answer any questions they might have about that process.
Pre-pandemic, Wasted Ink hosted and attended a lot of events. Do you have plans to go back to that once it’s safe to do so?
Oh, yeah, definitely. I’ve already reached out to a lot of the people that we’ve done events with in the past, and let them know we’ve moved and what the new event space will look like. I’m really looking forward to getting back to hosting our events and attending different events as well.
Do you have plans to collaborate on events with the other stores?
I think that it’s imperative that we collaborate. And you know, whether it’s first and third Friday events, which are always popular in Phoenix, whether it’s those kind of events that repeat each month or larger things, I really look forward to collaborating with my neighbors. And I think eventually, we’ll be doing virtual events as well. So that’s cool. That’s really exciting.
Can you name a couple of them that you’re excited about?
So, this zine is really interesting. It’s called Celebrating Cross Cultural Perspectives. It’s a zine that is actually not bound. There are individual cards of paper that are in a certain order like a zine, but it’s just printed beautifully on handmade paper, and I’m obsessed with it. The execution is very different. I also have Yard Drawings, by my friend Joseph Marshall, from Tucson. He just sits in his back yard and draws his backyard and they’re all printed on risograph. Let’s see…I have a new zine called Here and Now, a zine about being gender fluid, which I’m really excited about.
Any other big plans for the future, anything else you want to share about the new space?
As much as the space is for literary happenings, it’s more of a place for connection and mutual aid. And just continuing the goal of liberation through literary arts. I think every single person in this space, brings really good representation of different cultures and different identities and each one has really unique stories.
Wasted Ink Zine Distro
906 W Roosevelt Street, Suite 3
Phoenix, AZ 85007
Hours: Thursday 12-5pm and Friday–Sunday 11am-5pm