For years, Sherri White had her eye on an early 1900s-era, brick building in Brunswick, Maryland. Her dream, if the space ever became available, was to open a bookstore. When the location was listed for lease in June 2004, White worked fast: She secured the space, remodeled, and opened Book Crossing, a general bookstore and café, just three months later. The store is in historic downtown Brunswick, once a railroad town, now a bedroom community of D.C., in the midst of a revitalization project. White told BTW, "There wasn't much in the area when we opened"; however in the past three years, seven businesses have launched and residents are now reconsidering the viability of their downtown.
White had been working for a high-speed Internet company. She had no experience as a bookseller, but had a great love of books and a persistent vision. "For about five years, whenever I drove past the Old Apothecary Building, I would say that it was perfect for a bookstore. When I saw it listed for lease in the paper, I jumped. It still had the old pharmacy floor with mini-tiles, mahogany shelves, a marble bar where the soda fountain was, and tin ceilings."
The very same day White learned the space was for rent, she was online until 2:00 a.m. researching how to open a bookstore. At fabjobs.com, she found a downloadable manual featuring a long list of resources, including information on the American Booksellers Association, vendors, wholesalers, and more.
When White told her sister, Traci Giganti, about her plans to open a bookstore, Giganti asked about the possibility of becoming a partner. "She lived in [Indianapolis, Indiana], and I'd been trying to get her to move here for 20 years!" explained White. "It's what I'd always wanted. It's perfect. She's a teacher, so she has great experience with book selections for children."
Book Crossing is in historic downtown Brunswick, once a railroad town, now a bedroom community of D.C., in the midst of a revitalization project. White told BTW, "There wasn't much in the area when we opened"; however in the past three years, seven businesses have launched and residents are now reconsidering the viability of their downtown.
With its café, quick turnaround on special-order books, and early hours (doors are open by 5:00 a.m.), Book Crossing quickly established itself as a commuter hub. "It works for us," White said. "We get a nice percentage of our business from our commuters, who pick up coffee and baked goods. We're only a town of 5,000, but the store is right on the commuter rail line, and we have a big repeat customer base."
The café, which has a few small tables, also draws a loyal following. "We have a mixed market of people, young and old. It's wonderful," said White. "I like to watch people come out of their shells. It's almost feels like being a bartender."
White and Giganti recently acquired a space next door, which just about doubled Book Crossing's square footage to 2,000 and allowed them to expand the children's section and events space. White said making the decision to add the extra room was facilitated by an ABA seminar, "Expanding Your Bookstore," which she attended at BookExpo America 2007. "It helped us tremendously. There were a number of good reasons to expand, which applied to us, and a number of reasons not to expand, which didn't."
White said the children's section has become one of their top sections. "We're a general store, but a lot of people come in for our children's section. We're the place to come for a birthday gift. Because we're in such a small town, there hadn't been a lot of choices for the community unless they wanted to drive."
Another lure, said White, is the store's selection of Book Sense titles. "We display the bestsellers and change it out every week. We sell constantly from that display and have to restock all the time. It gives us guidelines and is a great source for our book clubs.
"We've explained to our customers that the Book Sense choices are from independent bookstores all over the country, which people appreciate," White added. "We've been trying to train our customers about the importance of independent businesses, and that they're not going to go into the big box stores and get the individual service that they love. We've built a lot of trust with our commuters. They finish a book, come in and say, 'What's next?'" --Karen Schechner