I had a revelation today of the once-in-five years or once-in-a-lifetime kind. It seems so obvious that I can’t believe I’ve never thought of it before:
I want to open a bookstore.
The thought came to me suddenly while I was drifting in and out of the first pages of The Hours on my new (secondhand) leather couch. I was admiring how sweetly the sun hits my dining room table at that time of day and realizing in my contented and sleepy state that this apartment truly feels like home. As I dozed off, flashes of my visits to Food for Thought and Amherst Books earlier that day flitted through my mind, and suddenly I pictured myself as the proud proprietor of a cozy bookshop and café, smiling at customers as I welcomed them to my store and fished a homemade chocolate chip scone out of a tall glass canning jar.
I sat up sharply. A million ideas fought for my attention at once. Before I could really formulate my thoughts, though, I started crying. Not because I was stressed or overwhelmed, but because I knew that I had found my life’s purpose and what will truly make me happy. I shed tears of pure joy that I’ve only experienced a very few times in my life.
Opening a bookstore in this economy and at this time in the book publishing industry sounds like folly, you say? I disagree. (At least, I disagree now, while the financial realities of accomplishing my goal are a hazy rain cloud in the distance.) The loss of Borders has left some huge gaps in the marketplace, and thousands of bookstores, video stores, and music chains have closed over the last few years. There’s a real sense of loss in small communities across the country; conversely, there’s a real opportunity for someone with book publishing experience, passion, and energy to step into this industry and open a new store—and do it well.
I have a hefty amount of debt and no savings, so I would obviously need a stellar business plan and a slew of investors and business partners to realize my dream. But I don’t think it’s impossible, either. Publishers rely on Indies (independent bookstores and booksellers) to put their books in the hands of consumers, and it’s not unreasonable to think that they would support my efforts by providing me with a significant discount on my initial stock up. Independent bookstores and book publishers are a tightly strung web, and I’ve heard plenty of stories of key publishing gurus chipping in to invest in their favorite local bookstores. The word on the street is that the ABA (American Booksellers Association) and the regional book trade associations are putting more support behind first-time bookstore owners, too, especially twenty- and thirty-something’s like me who have a better sense of social media and what drives younger generations of readers and consumers. Not to mention the success of websites like Kickstarter.com, which could help me raise the initial funding. I also have the great fortune of working with people who have all been booksellers and business owners at some point or another; there is no shortage of publishing mentors in my world.
I have a lot of ideas and a lot of questions, but I also have a vision. My bookstore will be an integral part of the community (which community—there’s the first question). I’ll have an events calendar that’s filled to the brim with more than just author readings and Q&A’s: it will be an active crafts and arts space for beginning and advanced crafters alike that also supports local artists; I’ll bring in experts to host workshops on a variety of topics, from encore careers and writing resumes to women’s self defense and online marketing; I’ll host acoustic live music performances in the coffee shop, and maybe even sell wine and beer; I want a garden that kids can wander through freely, and I’ll hold seed swaps for gardeners and cooking classes for curious chefs (excuse the alliteration). I want comfy couches, old family photos on the wall, and a record player with a stack of old records to pore through.
I’ll carry merchandise other than books, because any bookstore owner will tell you that gift items are a core percentage of their sales, and I’m ok with that. I would love to have a small DVD rental section (“donate your old DVDs” campaign?) and music for sale, too. I don’t need to have every book in existence in stock—that’s what libraries and Ingram and B&T are for. I need a great selection of books paired with an inviting atmosphere and a reason to walk through the door. And a kick ass social media campaign. My ideas aren’t revolutionary, and many of the successful Indies already incorporate all of these concepts. The problem is that there aren’t that many of them left.
There’s so much to think about, and I’m on the verge of an extremely busy season at my new job, in addition to the hefty fall to-do list that I just made. But I just requested the ABA’s “Opening a Bookstore Kit,” and I don’t want to let this idea fall to the wayside.
Next October I’ll be thirty. If I give myself a year to do the legwork and the research, I could be pitching to investors next fall. In three years, I could be toasting champagne at the grand opening. In five years, I could be running a successful business and making a name for myself.
So, what do you think? Will Belle have her bookstore after all?