An Open Book: Diary of a Soon-to-Be Independent Bookseller

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By Ann Lacefield

October 5, 2006: What's in a Name?

The opening of my new bookstore is only weeks away, and things are hectic. I have just left a meeting with my contractor, and only hours before, I finished an interview with the Greeley Tribune, my northern Colorado town's local newspaper. In a week or so they will print a story about a new independent bookstore right here in Greeley -- my bookstore, An Open Book LLC! It is almost surreal because I am stepping into a new career ... bookseller!

Today's interview really drove home the fact that so much has happened in these past 10 months: First, I retired from teaching after 24 years with junior high and middle school kids. I miss them each and every day. And second, in December 2005, I decided I would open an independent bookstore.

I've always loved bookstores. Years ago, we had a bookstore in town on the corner of 8th and 8th that was unique and warm. And I would often drive to Denver and sit in the cozy comfort of The Tattered Cover. Our Greeley bookstore closed many years ago, and my friends and I had often talked about how much we miss having an independent bookstore in Greeley ... and wondered who would try this venture again!

The answer to that question came on a busy afternoon last winter, when, taking a break from grading papers and trying to decipher state-mandated testing routines, I heard a bell ring. I looked up at the TV. Meg Ryan was walking into her "little shop around the corner" in the movie You've Got Mail. Ah, the romance of it all! I knew I could wear clothes like Meg (smile), I knew I could have candy on my counter, and I knew I could have a wonderful story-time corner. I finished my schoolwork and contemplated the idea. My sons are grown and successful ... so I thought that maybe this middle-aged woman was ready to begin a new chapter in her life!

Before I officially retired, I bought a space -- 1,348 square feet to be exact -- inside a larger building. And I have had the good fortune to have a coffeehouse go in right next to me (we share an interior door). The smell of coffee, cloth, paper, and ink ... a perfect combination!

Thus far, everyone has been so supportive -- my friends, my family, my "guy," and the soccer community (I coached competitive boys' soccer for almost 16 years). Of course, those people are my inner circle, they are supposed to support me, supposed to be excited, supposed to ignore the negative and focus on the positive. But as opening day draws ever nearer, I am ready to tell the world -- my world -- the city of Greeley, Colorado, about my bookstore, An Open Book LLC. My very own, independent "cozy and welcoming" bookstore is about to open, on Saturday, October 28, to be exact.

What has been a very fast and educational 10-month journey is about to come to an end, and a new one begins: Now, it is time to tell the entire community of my new venture and reach out for their support! (Tom Hanks caused Meg's store to close. I can't let that happen to me!) So, since The Greeley Tribune always gives new business owners publicity the week before they open, I decided to start there and give the newspaper a call. I felt I was definitely ready to answer any and all of their questions!

The interview took place in the large and busy main room of the newspaper. The friendly and seasoned reporter sat down, and we shook hands. He asked me, "So, how did you come upon the name of you store?"

Frankly, I hadn't rehearsed that question in my head. I paused and gave the question a moment's thought.

The search for a good bookstore name occurred at the very beginning of this journey. It seems so long ago. To find the names of stores already in Colorado was my first task, because I knew that I couldn't have a name like anyone else's in my state.

Almost immediately, my search for a name brought me to the virtual doorstep of the American Booksellers Association, Being a teacher and a union member, I knew the power that came from belonging to an organization, so I paid my dues and joined. Then, I searched bookstore names by state in ABA's Member Directory to get some ideas.

I knew my bookstore name needed to say something about how customers would feel, how my atmosphere would tempt, how my service would invite the shopper to come back, even just for a "look around." And then I wondered, will this name help in my success? Is any name that important? Did William S. have it right: "A rose by any other name...."

Ultimately, the name I decided upon was An Open Book LLC.

But that's not how I answered our intrepid reporter. Instead, I replied with a joke. "I wanted to have a name that came ahead of Borders in the Yellow Pages -- I didn't think that Acme Bookstore or AAA Bookstore had quite the right ring to it!" I said with a smile. I'm pretty sure my attempt at humor failed (I don't think the reporter realized that I was kidding -- well partially kidding, anyway), but I doubt that he'll find the comment important enough to put in his article.

My answer prompted his next query: "How will you compete with Borders, then?"

Now this I was prepared to talk about: Finding my niche ... making it so that anyone who walks in will want to return ... knowing my customers by name, knowing what they like to read ... great events... (My mind was racing: Did I mention everything that I learned from the wonderful people at Paz Booksellers School?)

The reporter seemed interested, but not that interested. Anyway, he had heard the story before, I suppose -- a new business owner about to compete with Borders and Barnes & Noble! The interview ended very pleasantly, along with a "mug shot" picture (oh dear!).

I felt happy as I left the interview -- secure in the thought that everything was happening as it should. Then, I received a call from my builder. I was to come to the shop and choose my outside signage. Colors, size, lights ... so many aspects of owning my part of this building! I knew that the walls were up and painted ... soon the shelving would be installed. But now all that I thought about was the outside sign that would bear the name An Open Book LLC. So, once again I ponder my choice of names ... does the right name add to a bookstore's success?...