Jessica Stockton Bagnulo of McNally Robinson Booksellers in New York City was named the first-place winner in the Power UP! Business Plan Competition, presented by the Brooklyn Public Library's Business Library and sponsored by Citigroup. She'll receive $15,000 and an in-kind package of services worth $5,000 for her plan to open an independent bookstore in Brooklyn. In her acceptance speech, Stockton Bagnulo said, "The judges were skeptical about the wisdom of opening an independent bookstore given all they'd heard, but I sold them on the idea with my data and my passion."
Stockton Bagnulo, who also works at the wholesaler BookStream in Poughkeepsie, New York, said she had been content just to meet with the Brooklyn business community and be part of the Power UP! project, whose deadline motivated her to finish her business plan. She had no expectations of walking away with a $15,000 check, as well as with a strong vote of confidence from the Brooklyn business community. "I was totally astonished," she said. "After they read honorable mentions and second-place winners, I thought, okay, it's all or nothing. They began describing the winning plan for the grand prize... and it became clear they were talking about me. It was an incredible moment.
"Obviously they believed in the plan and that an independent bookstore has a great shot of success in Brooklyn."
The plan is for a 2,000-square-foot bookstore, caf, and wine bar. "There will be a major emphasis on author events and Brooklyn culture," said Stockton Bagnulo. "And depending on which neighborhood we end up in, it will be strongly adapted to the taste of the community." She said that her plan was not revolutionary, but that she incorporated, along with her own ideas, "all the best parts of all the great bookstores I've worked in, from Three Lives, Book Culture [formerly Labyrinth], and McNally Robinson." Neighborhoods she's considering include Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Prospect Heights.
Stockton Bagnulo doesn't yet have a timeline for the opening of her bookstore because she's not sure how long it will take to acquire additional funds. "I figure I'll need about $300,000 to open," she said. "And maybe a quarter of that to get a loan." The award and the business community's stamp of approval, she hoped, will be leveraged into more funding.
The Power UP! judges told Stockton Bagnulo that it was the presentation of her plan that convinced the initially skeptical panel. "They said it was clear that this is what I would do with my life whether they helped me or not, and that I had gathered the data to prove that it was possible and had the passion to make it happen, as well as all the experience...."
Another factor in the judges' decision, speculated Stockton Bagnulo, was the facts she presented about thriving independent bookstores. "Everyone knows stories about stores that have closed," she said. "But I pointed to all of the stores in New York, McNally Robinson and Book Court... as models and examples of success. I also talked about successful independent bookstores all over the country. It's data they hadn't been hearing."
Stockton Bagnulo said many people told her they knew she'd win the business plan competition, although she wasn't so sure. "I don't understand how so many people could have been so confident. I'm humbled by the outpouring of good wishes from the book industry, which has always been really supportive. It's encouraging that the business community has also stepped in and sees an independent bookstore not as a charity case, but as viable and thriving." --Karen Schechner
A full account of Stockton Bagnulo's experience can be found on her blog, The Written Nerd.