Family Run

How A Family Overcame Obstacles To Create A Publishing House Catered To The Black Community

"Because of these things, it could've split us up, but it didn't ... We're a family, and so we handled those challenges as a family."

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Family Run is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Every month, we profile amazing families who work together in some capacity. From starting businesses, inventing products, collaborating artistically, and beyond, these family members are making positive contributions to the world together, and strengthening their family bonds in the process.

In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting an amazing family who has worked together to create a business catered to the African American community — The Villarosa family who founded a boutique publishing company called Villarosa Media

It all started with matriarch Clara Villarosa. Clara ran her own small business, the Hue-Man bookstore in two locations (Denver, CO and Harlem, NY), but after 26 years of running the store, she decided to pursue her dream of entering the publishing world with her two daughters Alicia and Linda. 

Together, they created Villarosa Media "to publish quality fiction and nonfiction books primarily by and about African Americans and the African diaspora in paper and e-book formats." 

From left to right: Linda, Clara, and Alicia Villarosa 
From left to right: Linda, Clara, and Alicia Villarosa  Photo Courtesy of Villarosa Media

"To me, the business always has to have a mission and within that mission, it's something related to improvement of us, as Blacks," Clara told A Plus over the phone. "... As the publishing industry became decimated, less attention was being paid to Black authors and Black books and… so we were thinking that we would provide a need that was needed in the industry." She recalled an exchange when she first opened the Hue-Man bookstore (which also catered to the Black community). Someone told her, "Well, I'm glad you're doing a bookstore because the thing that is said is, 'If you want to hide something from a Black person, put it in a book.'"

"I'm going to see that that's not true," Clara said. "... And do what I can to motivate us to be readers, to be knowledgeable, and — "

"To be represented in an industry that we aren't," her daughter, Alicia, interjected.

Of course, when it came time to publish their first book, The Wind Is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy of Audre Lorde, they soon realized that was easier said than done. "Our last project was really hard, and it was also our first project," Alicia said. 

"It was a learning curve," Clara was quick to jump in. 

Because none of the Villarosa women had published a book before, Alicia likened the experience to "inventing the wheel every single time."  

The difficulties could’ve ended the Villarosa’s family business before it even began, but, together, they held strong.

"Because of these things, it could've split us up, but it didn't," Clara said. "We worked together. We're a family, and so we handled those challenges as a family, with greater togetherness." 

"For us, there wasn't a question of 'Were we not gonna go forward? Were we not gonna be together?'" Alicia added. "That was a given, so it just was hard, and we were just determined to do it together." 

Now, as the Villarosas work on publishing their second book, it's still "a learning curve," but one they know they're better equipped to face. "We're making a little name for ourselves even though we're the tiniest, tiniest thing, but people kind of know we're out there," Alicia said. "And it's nice to be recognized in doing something real and positive for the community." 

Recently featured in Dream, Girl, a documentary about women entrepreneurs, the Villarosa's "little" business has taken them to some pretty big places, such as the Obama White House. 

The Villarosa women (far right) with other women entrepreneurs and the Dream, Girl filmmakers at The White House Council on Women and Girls. 
The Villarosa women (far right) with other women entrepreneurs and the Dream, Girl filmmakers at The White House Council on Women and Girls.  Photo Courtesy of Erin Bagwell

While Linda did the majority of the editing with their first book, as she was more familiar with the author and the subject matter, Alicia plans to work more with the manuscripts they receive going forward. "Even if it's good, it's still gonna need some work, so I think that's my role — trying to take whatever and get it to more of a finished product," she explained. 

Meanwhile, Clara, having been to law school, takes care of the legal end of the family business, creating contracts and managing finances. Linda, the journalism program director at City College in Harlem, as well as a published author and former health editor of the New York Times (where she's still a contributor), helps bolster her family business with her contacts within the media and publishing industries. "Being in business together, we really had to identify and then maximize our own particular network and skill set," Clara noted. 

It certainly helps that the Villarosa women have always been incredibly close.

The Villarosa women at the Dream, Girl world premiere.
The Villarosa women at the Dream, Girl world premiere. Photo Courtesy of Erin Bagwell

"It's somewhat easier because we do get along," Alicia said. "And it made it easier also to have meetings and do those kind of things because we see each other a lot. [...] We did have some form of structure but, at the same time, we could sort it out over dinner or whenever we were getting together." 

As close as the Villarosa women are, there have been times that Clara has had to step back and embrace the distance of a business relationship. "...The roles like mother and daughter, daughter and mother, they sometimes interfered a little bit with things we had to do related to the business," Clara said. She then recalled a moment when Linda and her were discussing a business matter, and Linda asked her, "What would you do if I wasn't your daughter?" Immediately, Clara knew what she'd say. 

Photo Courtesy of Erin Bagwell
Photo Courtesy of Erin Bagwell

"Now, the good part for us is we didn't have a whole lot of drama within our family, and that's one of the things that really gets family businesses because the dynamics within the family interfere with the working of the business," Clara explained. "And you don't often take that into consideration because you take the family dynamics as such a natural thing because you're used to it, and you somehow adapt to it."  

Alicia agreed and advised other families thinking of going into business together to discuss any uncertainties in their family dynamic so it doesn't become an issue in the future. Existing family relationships should work with — not against — business relationships. While employees in a more traditional business might delegate certain tasks to outsiders, Alicia observed, the Villarosas must instead rely on their existing skillsets. "And if none of us have the skillset, we just have to learn [and] figure it out," she explained. 

With so much passion for and commitment to their work, it might come as no surprise that the Villarosas run a tight ship. "You need to make sure nothing falls through the cracks," Alicia said. "With the last book, everybody was working really hard, but then there were still some things that weren't getting done." Through that experience, the family realized that even the most seemingly insignificant task needed to be accounted for in an organized list. Alicia explained, "There's always gonna be the unexpected so try to mitigate what you can —" 

"And anticipate before you jump in," Clara interjected. "Because you, as a family, you have history and usually with [business] partners you don't have as much history."

Ultimately, Alicia advised, "You should go in with your eyes open and understand the expectation that it's gonna be a lot of work."

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't celebrate the moments when all that hard work pays off. 

"Don't forget to appreciate the successes that you have," she added. "Sometimes they come in the middle of a deadline, or whatever it is, but just celebrate." 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, her mom agreed. 

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