Bel & Bunna’s Books Plans Opening for Late May

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Bel & Bunna’s Books, “a literary wonderland for children and young adults,” will open in Lafayette, California, by the end of May. The name of Lafayette’s newest children’s bookstore, explained owner Clare McNeill, is a combination of her childhood nickname, Clarabelle, and the name of her nine-year-old son’s stuffed bunny, Bunna.

The new 823-square-foot store, which replaces a florist’s shop in Lafayette’s downtown shopping district, will carry books for children ages 0 to 18 in a friendly environment that will feature bean bag chairs, Lego tables, a story time seating area bordered by windows, and furnishings from the former Storyteller Bookstore, the only other children’s bookstore in the small affluent city of 25,000 people for 30 years, until it closed in 2015.

Bel & Bunna’s will feature bright colors “and will have multicolored chandeliers on the ceilings with multicolored bunting going across,” said McNeill. “The plan is to have it be light and airy so you don’t feel closed in by the books, but you still feel surrounded by them.”

After working in the information technology field since the 1990s, McNeill, who hails from the U.K., said she was looking for a change: to follow her true passion for books and children’s literacy. She even considered taking a job at the local Barnes & Noble in Walnut Creek, she said, before it, too, closed in late January.

“So sort of overnight I changed my career completely when I decided this was the right time to give it a go. But the amount of support and enthusiasm I’ve had from people locally and from booksellers across the country has been amazing, absolutely incredible,” McNeill said. “I think there is a real resurgence in people wanting to read actual physical books and sniff the paper, and more than anything, they want their children to do it, too.”

A view of the store's exterior

Now that she has approval from her local planning board, McNeill said the store, which is partially funded by a private investor, should be ready for its opening by Memorial Day weekend.

“Across the board, we will have many books that will allow children to explore what they want to read, not just what they think they should read,” said McNeill. “It’s not just going to be Harry Potter and Twilight. There’s more to it than that.”

McNeill’s favorite book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, will definitely be part of Bel & Bunna’s collection, she said, as will the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, traditional fairy tale books, the British series Horrid Henry, and the works of Roald Dahl.

When it comes to sidelines, Bel & Bunna’s will carry art supplies and coloring books, plush toys from the Washington-based toy company Bunnies by the Bay, as well as a small range of matching child and toy/doll-sized T-shirts from Jackapotamus, a children’s clothing company in Los Angeles.

Two mornings a week, McNeill plans to open the store early to host a preschool get-together with music, “like a Mommy and Me time but in the bookshop,” she said. Bel & Bunna’s will also host author signings, book clubs, and other special events, including a release party for the latest Harry Potter book, a celebration for International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and events in conjunction with Lafayette’s annual arts and wine fair.

“We will try to do things within the community as well as within the bookshop because there is so much potential for children to be involved,” said McNeill.

The store, which will be open seven days a week, will also host a Saturday morning book club for elementary school children, starting with Roald Dahl’s The BFG. For participating in the book club, children will get loyalty points redeemable for books; they will also get points for writing book reviews, which will be posted on the store’s website and social media channels.

Two of Bel's friends, Carl and Penny. Pictures of four different child characters will be used throughout the store and on promotional materials.

McNeill has partnered with a friend to write a number of books for her son that star Bunna as the hero; these she may self-publish and keep in the store for people interested in its origins. The character of Bunna will also be featured on the walls, signs, and promotional materials as will a range of multicultural children’s characters, including the red-haired Bel. McNeill worked with a local graphic designer to create characters that would appeal to kids of all age groups and backgrounds, so every child who walks into the store will feel included.

McNeill said she thinks of the store as a family business that includes her two young sons. They are very much involved, she said; in fact, her nine-year-old recently asked if he could be “the store photographer and resident dinosaur expert.” If she is as busy as she expects to be, McNeill said she hopes to hire a paid staff member by the New Year.

“I am so passionate about this, I really am,” said McNeill. “I’ve never been as passionate about anything in my life. Having children read and encouraging them to read is so fundamental. I’m an example of somebody who somehow stumbled her way into following her dream and her passion.”