More than a bookstore, Symposia offers community

The Jersey Journal, March 23, 2006
By Ann Berrens

Walking into Symposia Bookstore in Hoboken is like discovering a gold mine in the center of town. You never know what you’ll find here. It might be a live puppet show to delight your toddler, an art exhibit or poetry reading to feed your soul, or a long lost copy of your favorite novel.

Symposia is more than a secondhand bookstore. It’s a community meeting place. Owned and operated by Corneliu and Carmen Rusu, it has the kind of vibe that makes you feel immediately at home. You’re free to browse the stacks or talk with the owners about the programs they offer. Carmen manages the bookstore, while Corneliu, better known as Cornel, oversees the programs.

“We have a weekly conversation group called the Salon that started meeting shortly after 9/11,” said Cornel, who is a social worker.

The diverse group, who range in age from early 20s to senior citizens and come from all ethnic backgrounds, get together on Wednesday nights from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. to discuss everything from politics to sexuality. No subject is taboo. The weekly topic, chosen by the group, is introduced in advance on Symposia’s Web site. Refreshments are served and all are welcome. “It’s an open environment for people to share ideas and learn other perspectives,” Cornel said.

There are two puppet shows for toddlers every weekday at 10 and 11 a.m. with matinees on Thursday and Sunday.

Symposia presents two new shows a week. The cost is $12 and includes a class afterwards with playtime, songs and crafts. There are discounts for parents who bring their kids each day. The puppet show grew out of a need.

“Parents who came to the store wanted a story hour,” explained Cornel, describing how he became a puppeteer.

Kipley Wentz, a local actor talks to the audience, while Cornel works the hand puppets behind the scenes. “It’s been a wonderful way for me to get in touch with the child inside me,” he said. According to Carmen, his innerchild is “alive and kicking.”

Symposia also features monthly art shows. At the moment there’s a terrific exhibit on view through March 31. What looks like a multi-media show by professional artists, is in fact a superb collection of works by children from Stevens Cooperative, organized by their art teachers Ed Lu and Lucy Covello.

There are textural paintings, shadow puppets and ceramics, along with some very sophisticated examples of art drawn from other cultures, including Chinese lanterns, wampum belts and Egyptian cartouches. Among my favorites are the mosaics by the 6th graders, especially the white dragon, which reminds me of Puff.

The bookstore also has a poetry reading on the first Sunday of the month, a monthly book club, which meets on the fourth Thursday, and an independent movie night. Charitable organizations can contact Symposia and they will lend the store to them-run the store for a day and receive all the money from the day’s sales.

Carmen and Cornel, who are originally from Romania, live in Hoboken with their two children. They founded Symposia in 2001. It was originally located on Willow Avenue but moved to Washington Street two years ago.

Friends and neighbors donate the treasure trove of books they sell. Hard covers cost $5, oversized paperbacks are $4 and paperbacks are $1 to $2.

“We accept any kind of books,” Cornel said, “except encyclopedias.”

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