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Hidden Gems: "Literary Emporium" Opens in New Brunswick with Music, Art, and Lots of Books

By Maureen Berzok,

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - It was a hot day in the Hub City in a neighborhood tucked in behind the Library, across from an historic cemetery, and down the block from the iconic George Street Co-Op. This past Sunday there was dancing in the street - New Brunswick's 55 Morris Street to be precise - and an exuberant atmosphere in the hearts of those in attendance at the grand opening of Hidden Gems, an arthouse, gallery, and bookstore built on creative dreams and focused action by a young family.

The next exciting chapter has been written in the lives of Kaila Boulware and Raymond Cheley Sykes, two booklovers who fell in love as students at Rutgers. Now married and raising Truth, their smiling 1-year-old son, they have accomplished an amazing feat in the post-COVID-19 business environment. They have opened a small business - a family bookstore in New Brunswick.

“The Grand Opening was more than amazing! It was a testament to what can happen when we as a community come together for a common cause. There were 480 people who RSVPd, and I think every single one of them showed up. The line was out the door and around the corner. The amount of book donations we received, and still are receiving, proves that there are still book lovers out there. That alone brings us so much joy. We thought when we started the bookstore we would have to convince people to love books again. We found out that people still do love books, they just need an outlet to express and explore that in. People tell us they have been looking for a small, family owned bookstore for some time now. We are honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve the Middlesex County community in this way," says Boulware.

"We gave away so many free books at our opening," she continued. "We extended that giving throughout the entire first week for our first-time customers. The smiles and squeaks people exuded when we told them they could pick a free book was amazing."

The bookstore's inventory is drawn from local donations of classic and contemporary novels, artbooks, popular series, top authors, and children's favorites. Most have been donated by members of the greater community of Middlesex County. Indeed, Boulware told TAPinto East Brunswick that she has a whole storage unit full of books, each waiting to find a home on a shelf and then get "adopted" by a new reader.

Boulware shared that many of the bookshelves and other furniture pieces at the location were given to Hidden Gems by Freecycle East Brunswick Local , an online group offering free items to local people who could use them. "I could thank you all for the rest of my life. On behalf of not only Hidden Gems, but my entire family, we love you all, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.To the ladies who became my personal assistants, Beth Gilbert Kalt, Cristina Brodie, Ambreen M Rab and Melissa Morris Inoa Thank you for collecting all of these donations!" she said."To the admin Cathy Trapani, thank you! I am sending special thanks to Hollie Cerame and her son Andrew from Do Not Throw It Away who helped, as is still helping us, move furniture and books from place to place."

"We are firm believers that you reap what you sow. When you give abundantly, you receive abundantly. And, when you put others before yourself, the spiritual reward is unmatched. The grand opening had all demographics. All colors. All ages. All races and religions. It was so beautiful. This is what Hidden Gems is all about,” the bookseller added.

"We tell people all the time, this effort started with a prayer. Two weeks before we pitched our idea to Above Art Studios, we walked into a bookstore with thousands and thousands of books. We were the only family of color, which is not unusual. From the stares, and whispers, we could tell we were not welcome. But we had our son, Truth, with us, and we wanted to give him the experience of exploring through shelves filled with so many books. When we left, the cashier made a phone call and said ,” Okay, they are leaving now.” Raymond was so saddened by their response, he started to pray. He said, “Yoheweh, please give us the opportunity to one day have a bookstore filled with thousands of books. We want to create an environment where all people are welcome and loved, no matter what color, race or religion they are. We want to be able to provide books to our communities at a low price, so everyone has access to knowledge, wisdom and truths.”

Six weeks, and thousands of books later, the Hidden Gems Literary Emporium grand opening is the most popular event of the weekend in New Brunswick, NJ,” she said.

Moving forward, Hidden Gems, 55 Morris Street will be open Monday through Thursday from 10:00 to 3:00, with Sunday hours for donation drop-offs.

“We are humble servants of our Creator and our community. They are our hidden gems.”

Hidden Gems's Goals—-

1. Give away 12,000 free books per year.

2. Support and promote NJ authors of all ages, young, old and in-between.

3. Youth development programs centered on literacy and art.

How to Donate—

Cashapp - $HiddenGemsEmporium

Venmo @HiddenGemsLiteraryEmporium

Interested in sponsoring a shelf?

Call Kaila Boulware Sykes 609-361-4331 or email

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