Career advice from the owner of NYC’s Yu and Me Books
At 27, Lucy Yu is in her second career and living what she originally planned to be her retirement goal. She is the owner of Yu and Me Books, New York City’s first bookstore owned by an Asian American woman located in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
Yu is a chemical engineer by training and until recently worked as a supply chain manager for a food company. In 2021, however, spurred by burnout and finding solace in books, she decided to pursue a “chimerical dream” of opening a bookstore — a bookstore that featured works by Asian Americans, d of color, immigrants and people from marginalized communities.
One night over wine, she Googled “how to run a bookstore” and a few hours later found herself with the sketch of a business plan. She raised nearly $16,000 through GoFundMe and invested her savings in rent, overhead, and starting inventory.
In December, Yu and Me Books opened to the public, and in February Yu quit his day job to focus on running the bookstore full-time. “I just took a picture and was hoping it would turn out for the best,” she says.
Yu shared with CNBC Make It the biggest lessons she learned throughout a year as a business owner, along with her top book recommendations.
I will make mistakes. That’s for sure. So learning to be less hard on myself has been a big learning curve, but also vital for me to maintain a sustainable business. If I dwell on the little things, even some of the big things, I have to remind myself: mistakes are inevitable. I learned to take the hits a little more and give myself some breathing space, which is a good life skill in general.
There are days when I feel like I’m completely lost for what I’m doing. I really don’t have a lot of experience. I don’t know what it’s like to be in the publishing world. And this is my first time owning a business, especially a bookstore. So I can feel really defeated at times.
But the motivation I had was due to the love and support of my friends who tell me: look what you have created from a Google search. They really lifted me up when I was down.
Be prepared, but don’t let that preparation stifle a leap of faith. My last manager told me I needed to be a little more open to ambiguity, so I took that to heart. Impossible to predict everything.
While creating my business plan, I called a few different bookstores for advice and heard from Noelle Santos du Lit. Bar in the Bronx. I just asked her some basic questions about trade assurance, and she was immediately friendly and said, “If you ever need anything, just let me know.”
Emma Straub of Books Are Magic in Brooklyn contacted me quite early in my GoFundMe campaign. She came the day of my opening with her children. She owns a bookstore — she doesn’t need books from another bookstore! But the amount of love she gave me before she even knew me to show me her support was above and beyond.
And the Chinatown community is phenomenal. It’s the best I’ve felt at home in a living neighborhood in New York. Every store owner is showing up for each other. I am going to go to Uncle Lou, a new Cantonese restaurant, during the day. Wilson Tang, owner of the Nom Wah teahouse, comes with his children all the time. And all the community organizers from groups like Welcome to Chinatown and Send Chinatown Love – the way they introduce themselves to each other in the community is something I’ve really never seen before.
I hope to expand the reach of the store beyond New York community, host book clubs and make it a community event space. I’m working on a liquor license so we can stay open later on the weekends and people can hang out.
But honestly, I don’t think beyond two weeks, which isn’t ideal for a business owner. But I think with all the unpredictability of everything we’ve been through in the last three years, you can’t really predict anything. And if I can do it beyond two weeks, and it’s a really positive and awesome experience, I can do it again two weeks after that.
I have about 1,700 titles, and I pick them all myself, so I definitely have some blind spots and missing titles I’m working on.
I consult a lot of Livrestagram. I’m not kidding, these book Instagrammers do an amazing job of showcasing titles that don’t always top the big lists. I spend a lot of time on StoryGraph, an application with wonderful recommendations that does not belong to Amazon. I spend a lot of time researching and creating my listings each week.