In the age of cookie cutter big box sellers and impersonal online stores, shopping malls and main streets have a very different feel than they did when I was younger. I remember pressing my nose against the windows of the toy stores, dreaming of my magical day gaping at the white wedding gowns and veils, and books, always books. I religiously took my allowance down to the corner bookstore and spent hours deciding on just that right book for the week. Trixie Beldon, The Secret Garden, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, and so many more.
As I grew older my tastes in books grew. I learned about more fantasy authors, and thrillers. I read Poe and Shakespeare, Tolkien, McCaffery, Stephen King. I went through the historical romance phase and the historical nonfiction phase. I found new authors and opened my eyes to the world around me and the possibilities for the future.
Then bookstores started to disappear. Waldenbooks, Borders, even Barnes and Noble started to drop off. I was given a Nook as a Christmas present and was thrilled to have thousands of books at my fingertips, but within a year, that novelty wore off, and I was yearning for that feel, that smell, of the latest book to fall asleep with. Everyone said, books were becoming a thing of the past, and that thought made my heart hurt.
There is that inevitable question when you reach middle school age, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, for me it was a teacher, a librarian, or work in a bookstore. At age 52 I got my wish, I was hired to work at a small used bookstore. I was able to finally use all my retail experience and my love of books in the same place, and doing something I loved. The store I worked at made several changes and so did I, and some of those changes prevented me from working at the bookstore and so I decided to turn my life around and go to entrepreneur school so I could learn marketing and sales and get a new job. Then the news came, our local bookstore, BookWorld, announced it was closing.
With that news, I, along with my husband, hatched a scheme of opening our own bookstore. A friend mentioned all my experience and convinced me I didn’t need classes to tell me what I already knew, so we decided to take the money I was going to spend on school, my husbands savings and credit card, and started to plan. I found my vendors, had friends to help set up. I had ideas of the lines I wanted to carry, I even found a space. The name and logo were a little harder to agree on, but we eventually settled on a name as well. The store was planned and, being located in a tourist area, scheduled to open in April, but with BookWorld ending by January, we pushed for a January 21st opening. We bought shelves from the closing bookstore, started to order product and set up a small 450 square foot store. I was living my dream.
It soon became clear, 450 sq. feet was not going to be big enough! I had my eye on the 1200 sq. foot space down the hall. My hubby agreed, the landlord was agreeable and even gave me a month of cheap rent for the move, and we grew. More books, puzzles and games, comic books (my husband’s favorite) and local art, I even had an office. Don’t get me wrong, this was my dream store, but locking the door on the baby store for the last time was heartbreaking. This was a big step! More expensive, more time needed to work the store, more stock, I was terrified. Then the news came that a second bookstore was opening just across the street, and unlike us, they had a window facing the street. I spent more than one night crying myself to sleep, scared my dream was going to go up in smoke. My family and friends helped settle my nerves as best I could. With their help and even when the checkbook only had $3.17, I still believed in my dream.
Did I mention that we outgrew that 1200 square feet store? By October it became clear to me, if we were going to have author signings, game nights, and more categories of books, we needed to grow, again. The key to our original baby store, conveniently located next to the new space and separated only be a removable door, turned again, and 1200 square feet became 1650. The new space became dedicated to the comics and games. Through acquisitions, new artists, discovering and fine tuning what our customers were looking for, we continued to thrive. Even through snow storms every weekend that shut us down, illness, Covid-19, and the new bookstore across the street, my baby grew from a baby, to a toddler, to a teenager, with all the growing pains of a real person.
What does all this have to do with Independent Bookstore Day? I will tell you. We are here now celebrating our second IBD. We did it with out having parents giving us money, a retirement pension to draw from, or a gigantic loan from a bank. We did it without having a huge, familiar name in the public. We did it without 4000 Facebook friends or 1500 Instagram followers. What we did, and still do have, is a drive for a dream, a mutual love of books and each other, even when we don’t agree on something, and friends who support us. We have customers who have turned into friends, and more customers yet to be met. We have artists gracing our walls with beauty, local authors filling our shelves. I look forward to celebrating a 3rd Independent Bookstore Day and many more. Judging from the comments of customers, we will make it.
What is my favorite part of owning my own bookstore? There are many, but if I had to choose, it would be seeing the wide eyes of young readers going through the shelves, deciding between this book or that book and finally coming up with a book in one hand and their own money in the other, proudly paying for it by themselves. I can’t help but wonder if one of them will grow up to be a teacher, or a librarian, or own a bookstore of their own one day. I surely hope so, the world needs more independent bookstores.