A Happy Beginning at Once Upon a Story

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Once Upon a Story, an 11-year-old children's specialty bookshop in Long Beach, California, is hot for Harry and keen on Nancy Drew. Both are featured prominently on the store's new BookSense.com website.

The website is one of the innovations that new owner Cyndie Kalina has brought to the store since taking over last November. She is very pleased with the way former owner and continuing store advisor, Julee Morris, operated the bookstore, she told BTW. "[Julee] has done a great job branding the store, and her husband, an artist, designed the store's interior beautifully." Kalina's changes have mainly expanded certain outreach efforts, including generating more interest in the store through the Internet and increasing the number of events, on- and off-site.

Among the improvements, Kalina pointed to the store's MySpace page and its links to book ordering pages on the store's website. She sees this as a way to bring more young adult readers into the store, physically or virtually. Once Upon a Story runs three story hours each week, and Kalina is starting some mother/daughter book clubs. An increased number of off-site events and book fairs also are planned. In addition, for the first time this year, the store participated in the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

The prominent placement of the "Independent Muggles for Harry Potter" Sweepstakes on the store's website is intended to bring fans of all ages to the store for its major Harry Potter party, where books will be sold just after midnight on July 21. The store is selling pre-ordered copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling, Scholastic) at a discounted price. Kalina sees the Potter event as more than a financial boon. "This is an opportunity to connect with my customers and show my appreciation; it creates goodwill."

Despite competition from chain stores and other e-tailers, Kalina expressed confidence in the community's support. "We're fortunate," she told BTW, "that we are in a community that is mindful of independent businesses." The 1,500-square-foot store is a freestanding building in an area zoned for both retail and residential properties. A coffee shop is conveniently located next door.

In addition to the store's small selection of books for adults, Kalina will special order adult titles, many of which are on Book Sense lists. Customers look forward to the lists each month, according to Kalina. "The Book Sense list is far more meaningful to our customers than any other bestseller list. Not all books that sell well are quality books -- we prefer a little more discernment," she emphasized.

When asked why she entered bookselling, Kalina laughed. "It wasn't because I did a great deal of research. I knew I wanted to do something in retail and this came along." She attributes her involvement in Once Upon a Story to "fate." She explained that when she was introduced to then-owner Morris twice in one day, by two different friends, she figured she "belonged here."

"This is the first business venture where I have derived so much joy. It's a wonderful occupation," Kalina concluded. -- Nomi Schwartz