PROVIDENCE — They helped stock shelves when the store was just getting started, held their baby shower in between the stacks, and found a community in its courtyard through the darkest days of the pandemic. Now Ottavia De Luca and Lucas Mann own the whole place.
Just three months after it hit the market for $250,000 — which included the store, the bar, and all 6,000 books on its shelves — the ever-popular RiffRaff Bookstore and Bar on the border of Providence’s West End and Olneyville neighborhoods was recently purchased by De Luca and Mann. The couple are longtime West End residents, and said they plan to retain the store’s name, pop-ups, book clubs, and charm.
When RiffRaff opened in 2017 under cofounders Tom Roberge and Emma Ramadan, the two envisioned the kind of place where readers could look through a selection of curated titles, and sit at the bar to chat with a neighbor.
Roberge, who now lives in Switzerland, announced in June that he planned to sell the business to focus on his work as the head of the writing residencies program at the Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature. When friends of De Luca’s saw the announcement, she said they asked if she and her husband planned on pursuing the opportunity.
“I simply could not pass this up,” said De Luca. “When Tom and I talked about it, we knew this was meant to be.”
De Luca has been working in different corners of Rhode Island’s wine and spirits industry for nearly a decade. She previously worked as a manager at Eno Fine Wines in downtown Providence, and then went on to run operations at The Wine Brothers, which is a local independent importer and wine distributor in Pawtucket.
The author of three books, Mann is an English and writing professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He’ll take a more behind-the-scene position, but will be piloting the author readings and events.
Prior to moving to Rhode Island, De Luca worked at a similar bookstore — the Prairie Lights Bookstore — in Iowa City. For her, the store was “pivotal” in her understanding of how a bookstore could be a place to foster and grow a community. At the RiffRaff, she’ll be taking over all operations of the bookstore and bar.
“What Tom and Emma created is such a special place, and the wonderful staff, delicious drinks, and carefully curated book selection will remain,” said De Luca, who also is a member of the OUT LOUD Theatre, an experimental and avant-garde collaborative in Providence. “Our offerings will only grow from there.”
De Luca said they’re planning to feature local artists with receptions to celebrate their work, while also hosting wine nights, open mics, food, live music, and movies in the courtyard.
“We’ve always felt welcome here,” said De Luca of RiffRaff. “We want to make sure every person who steps into the space feels the same. This is a place to try something new, to seek out weird, wonderful art and literature, to share your own work, to support and be supported by your community. Come in, grab a book, have a drink.”
The RiffRaff is “more than just providing great books. “It’s a haven for the curious and creative, a place to meet and experiment.”
Riffraff is located at 60 Valley St., Unit 107A, in Providence. riffraffpvd.com.