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Early Childhood Education

The Lessons An LA Bookstore Owner Learned As An Entrepreneur, A Latina, And A Mom

A woman with medium-light skin tone holds a 3-year-old child with medium skin tone at a children's bookstore.
Stephanie Moran Reed and her 3-year-old daughter whose first and middle names, Mireya Jamila, inspired the store's name.
(Mariana Dale
LAist )
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Los Angeles County multicultural children’s bookstore MiJa Books is turning a new page. The brick-and-mortar store at Lakewood Center mall closed in late January, but the online business and special events continue.

The Lessons An LA Bookstore Owner Learned As An Entrepreneur, A Latina, And A Mom

“Our mission is to showcase books that feature children of color and books by and about authors of color,” said owner Stephanie Moran Reed.

LAist sat down with Reed before the store’s last bilingual storytime to talk about her journey to entrepreneurship, mom guilt, and her go-to book recommendation.

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This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Things Can Happen Quickly

LAist: How did you start MiJa books?

Reed: Since I was a little girl, I grew up in the library. We didn't necessarily have the means to have a home library, but my mother always took me to the public library. The Downey City Library was where I lived. My husband, he always talks about it taking time for him to love reading because he didn't see himself in books when he was a kid. He's African American.

So with our daughter, her being biracial Latina and Black, we wanted her to be proud of who she is and know both of her backgrounds and celebrate that.

MiJa Books was born out of the pandemic. Our daughter was turning 1 at the time and we were, aside from work, building her home library and trying to find books like the ones we currently carry. It was a struggle. We couldn't find them in stores, and more surprisingly to us it was difficult to even find them online.

I feel as a Latina, as a female, growing up in a poor middle class household, it wasn't necessarily top of mind to be like, ‘I'll just start my own business.'
— Stephanie Moran Reed, owner of MiJa Books

We started with a website in 2020 and built a resource for parents and educators. We started posting book reviews on our website and then in Oct. 2020 we launched our e-commerce portion of the website and started selling a lot of the books we were reviewing. Then we started doing pop-up markets throughout Southern California and culturally-themed festivals. It all happened really quickly that we got our first storefront in Nov. 2021.

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Find Someone To Build You Up As You Build A Business

Your shirt says "Latinapreneur." Tell me about your background starting your own businesses. 

If it wasn't for my husband, I probably wouldn't be an entrepreneur. (Reed starts to tear up a little here.) He pushed me to get into — sorry — I get emotional when I talk about this.

I graduated from UCLA with a cognitive science major and a gerontology minor. My initial passion before starting the bookstore was working with seniors in retirement homes. Over time, I worked at a few different facilities and I recognized a need for stimulating programming for seniors. A lot of it was the stereotypical bingo and chair exercise and crafts. You know, seniors love that and it's needed, but they were requesting and wanting and seeking more intellectual programming.


My first business that I created — Senior Sensory — was built out of that experience. I started it in 2016. At the height of that business, I had about 13 senior communities that I would visit all throughout Southern California and offer this cognitive-stimulating, engaging programming for seniors. That was what I loved doing. And then the pandemic hit and as many other people experienced, I had to pivot. I literally couldn't visit the seniors anymore. The facilities were all shut down to outside visitation.

Why does it make you emotional to think about how your husband has supported you and your entrepreneurship?

Gosh, you know, I've had a lot of, you know, 9 to 5 jobs. I started working at the age of 15. I've done food service jobs and looking back on it, there was always something in those types of settings that didn't make me happy. At the end of the day, I was always burnt out.

My husband started his first business when he was in college and now he owns his own law practice. It was his encouragement, his advice, his insight into the business world that pushed me and planted that seed that's like, ‘Oh, I can start my own business.’

I feel as a Latina, as a female, growing up in a poor middle-class household, it wasn't necessarily top of mind to be like, 'I'll just start my own business. I'll just quit my 9 to 5.' That wasn't something anybody discussed in our family.

I'm forever grateful to my husband for being the one to plant that seed and to encourage me.

Connecting With Customers, The Good And The Bad

What were some of your favorite moments in the MiJa Books physical store?

What Book Does MiJa Books' Owner Recommend?
  • "One of our go-tos is Honeysmoke. It’s our go-to book when someone's looking for a book with biracial characters. There's a Black mom, a white dad, and it's a young girl that is at the age where she's realizing her mom and dad and herself all have different skin tones and so she's starting to question, why is that? It's a beautiful story about her finding the right adjectives to describe everybody's beautiful skin tones. It's beautifully illustrated by an AfroLatina illustrator [Yesenia Moises]."

  • —Stephanie Moran Reed

The first customer that walked in was brought to tears. She was an older Black lady named Corine, I'll never forget her name. She was just scanning the shelves and she paused and was kind of speechless for a while. She just started shedding tears and she's like, 'I've never seen anything like this before.' I cried with her in that moment.

She told me that day, 'I'm buying something now, and when I get my monthly benefit check, I'm coming back with my granddaughters.'

Sure enough, she came back.

We've had men come in here and start tearing up and saying, 'I wish I had this when I was a kid,' and wanting to bring their children into the store with them.

I'll never forget those moments.

A medium skin tone woman scans the barcode on a puzzle at a children's bookstore.
Moran said another challenge of running MiJa Books is the "mom guilt." I'd feel so guilty having my daughter next to me in the living room when I wanna just shut the laptop and play with her," Reed said.
(Mariana Dale
LAist )

What were some of the challenges of running the MiJA Books store?

This experience has definitely been the proverbial rollercoaster ride. I mentioned the highs that we've had, but because of what we are doing in the book selling space, we've had the exact opposite reaction both from people of color and also from white people that didn't like what we were doing.

I've had people call me racist. I've had people call me a hypocrite. I had a customer, after she saw us on a local news channel, she called because she was concerned that there was no white representation on the shelves.

There was a family standing right outside of our doors and the child wanted to come in and the mom pulled them away saying, 'No, we're not going into that store ever again.'

I don't have thick skin. It's hard for me to brush those types of experiences off. But I always tell people, if we've had that type of response from people, then we must be doing something right. If we're — I guess you can call us the disruptors — we must be doing something right.

Investing A Lot Of Time

What kind of hours did you put into running MiJa books?

Being an entrepreneur, what are even hours anymore? What day is it? I have no idea. It's always something. I would have nightmares about the business, like not paying an invoice or do I need to change our logo? It's always something.

  • One of the biggest obstacles to children's ability to enjoy reading is dyslexia, the learning disorder that likely affects between 5% to 20% of people in the United States.

  • Dyslexia is a way that certain brains process information that usually manifests itself in difficulty reading. This difficulty is unrelated to a person’s intellectual strengths in other areas, and with early intervention, children can learn to read as well as peers without dyslexia.

  • Learn more and find resources to help in these stories.

I don't know that you can really quantify the hours that you put into a business as an entrepreneur. Operating a brick and mortar, it was wearing all the hats, accounting and social media and payroll. And on top of all that, my daughter’s 3 and a half, so I'm still trying to be a good mother, which is really, really challenging. I had a lot of moments of mom guilt and I probably always will as an entrepreneur.

Let’s talk more about what you mean by “mom guilt.” 

I would always have moments of feeling that I'm not spending enough time with her in these formative years of her brain development. Even if it's just playing a game with her at home, there’s always something related to work in the back of my mind.

If I forgot something, I'd have to pull out my laptop and work on the kitchen table and I'd feel so guilty having my daughter next to me in the living room when I wanna just shut the laptop and play with her. I just wish that I had more opportunities whenever I wanted to be able to go and do something with her. It's difficult for me.

At the very least we're setting a great example for her as far as owning your own business and being in charge of things.

What questions do you have about early childhood education and development? What do you want to know about kids ages 0-5 and those who care for them in Southern California?
Decades of research indicates early childhood education significantly boosts children’s readiness to learn. Mariana Dale wants families, caregivers and educators to have the information they need to help children 0-5 grow and thrive by identifying what’s working and what’s not in California’s early childhood system.

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