Interview with Tom and Emma of Riffraff

When I heard about the upcoming bookstore/bar opening in Providence, I was excited and intrigued. A bookstore/bar? How cool is that?

I had a chance to sit down with owners Tom Roberge and Emma Ramadan, and they told me just how cool it will be.

The location at 215 Dean Street is currently being rehabbed in an old jewelry manufactury, and will house two retail spaces. One will be Riffraff. The plan is to maintain the original industrial feel of the building, including a carriage turnaround in the floor, and some of the original equipment, that will decorate the space.

"It's similar to what they've done at Spotty Dog in Hudson, outside New York City, and Molasses Books in Brooklyn," Emma told me. They want to bring that experience to Providence.

If you're thinking of channeling your inner World's Most Interesting Man, sitting in a leather armchair by the fireside, drinking beer or scotch while you read, think again.

Instead, you'll walk into a carefully curated bookstore, with tables of new releases, and shelves (built by Tom) of literature, poetry, philosophy, art, current events, science fiction, and crime. There will also be a selection of translated works. Emma, who translates literature from French, and Tom, who worked at Albertine, a French bookstore located in the French Embassy in New York, are both enthusiasts of translated works. "Those are the things we like to read," Tom explained. "It's a limited space, so we'll focus on that."

There won't be tables and chairs in the bookstore. Those are for the bar which will take up the back part of the space. "Bookshop cafes aren't very social," Emma said. "Everyone's on their computer or phone. A bar is friendlier. It's where people go to talk to each other and hang out."

They envision a full neighborhood bar, with local beer on tap, wine, and spirits. They'll work with a local bartender to make a signature cocktail, and some basic seasonal cocktails. But the drinks won't be chi-chi, $13 dollar drinks.

"We want it to be a place where everyone can go. The drinks are affordable, and people can come in and hang out," Emma said. Community is an essential part of their business model, including a community lending program to help raise startup costs.

There won't be a tv in the bar, and the music will be low. The whole idea is for Riffraff to be a place to hang out and talk about books, or anything else that strikes your fancy. The bar will have space for book clubs and other public events. "Eventually we may have authors come in, but not to do readings," Tom said. "To do conversations."

Because it all comes back to community.


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