By S. Levine
If she removed her bed and added another couch, Emilia Cataldo’s bedroom could be a neighborhood bookstore. It’s hard to decide what to look at first: the stacks of books or the inviting clutter. Bright metallic colored Mardi Gras beads hang off a smiley face bulletin board.
Next to that is a windowpane covered in painted flowers, that was found on the street. A table covered in different colored silk scarves holds multiple earring/necklace trees, off of which hangs intricate jewelry, mainly silver or bright stones. A keyboard is set up under a row of windows, and a harp sits next to it on a dresser top. An acoustic guitar with a Guayaki Yerba Mate sticker rests in the corner.
Cataldo, a 27-year-old student/musician/ independent bookseller, sits cross-legged on her bed, surrounded by brown paper packaging, as she wraps a book that’s to be shipped to Michigan.
An aversion of the 9-5-work day has instilled her with an entrepreneurial spirit. Cataldo has been making and selling things, from bottle cap earrings to crocheted water bottle holders, since the age of 7. Currently she supports herself by selling used books.
Her goal? “Ultimately what I want out of this is to not be beholden to someone else…to never again set foot in an office.”
Cataldo has found a lucrative way to “beat the system” and plans on becoming a full-time bookseller after graduating this spring.
Environmentally conscious, Cataldo also collects second-hand wrapping materials, which has the added benefit of cutting down on her costs. Beyond the set percentage that Amazon takes per sale, since she searches for free books, she is mostly making all profit.
The books mainly come from friends, though sometimes she is lucky enough to find books on street corners, or left with in the basement of her building as garbage. She is always on the lookout. She then checks the ISBN number on Amazon.com to make sure that the book is worth something. Once she posts it on-line she just has to wait for someone to buy it. This month she has made close to a thousand dollars.
Cataldo has traveled all over the city, even venturing as far as Union City, NJ, to collect books. Her boyfriend Jacob, who was the first person to suggest that she sell books, often worries about the neighborhoods she goes to. He often tells her, “Don’t go into people’s houses.”
A former co-worker of Cataldo, Chana Auerbach, who worked with Cataldo at EGL, a diamond certification company in midtown, remembers Cataldo as being responsible in showing up on time every day, but always felt that a 9-5 job was not going to work for Cataldo. “She is less conventional and follows her own path,” Auerbach said.
A music major at Yeshiva University, Cataldo finds that having an unconventional job gives her more time to work on her music. Her band Nehedar, which means resplendent in Hebrew, is hoping to release a third album this year. As neither book selling, nor her music are full time projects, she is confident in her ability to juggle both.
The daughter of wandering parents, Cataldo has lived in Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, and New York. Yet according to her father no matter where she went to school, teachers would write on her report card “Emilia is an avid reader.”
These days Cataldo mainly reads non-fiction. A staunch liberal, she stays well informed on the issues which worry/interest her. Cataldo cares a lot about the social justice aspects of society, and deeply respects those who give back to the world. She views Angelina Jolie as a role model; she admires her for her philanthropy. “People are going to look up to her looks wise or lifestyle wise, she does good things and she advertises them,” Cataldo elaborated.
Like many she is currently concerned about the upcoming election, the environment, and the economy. Cataldo is concerned about the disappearance of a middle class. “I used to think it was a terrible thing – like it was tacky or something, but I was coming from the lower class…but it’s really important to be able to survive without debt and it’s just such as uncertain future right now.”
A personal concern of hers is Kindle, a digital book reader, and while it “might be better for trees” she would be “really sad” if books were to disappear. It would be a loss not only of the esthetic pleasure some get from a physical book (holding it, turning the pages, feeling the weight of the paper); it would also mean the end of her slowly expanding business.
“Learning is really important to me right now,” she explained when asked what about selling books she enjoys. “Part of the excitement is sharing learning with people … there’s plenty of negative ideas out there, but there really aren’t that many negative books…there’s just a striving for the truth and it’s really nice.”
Cataldo’s penchant for truth is something her roommate Danielle Shay admires about her. “She has a cool personality because she’s super real. She’s smart, she knows what’s up, does what she believes in and doesn’t give a shit as to what other people think,” Danielle says with a laugh. “What do I think about her job? I don’t care as long as she pays the bills. She’s an easy roommate, she’s respectful and not annoying.”