Six Bookstores Off to a Good Start

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In 2009, 40 ABA member stores opened across the U.S. Bookselling This Week recently checked in with six of those new stores for a report on their first year. From Waterbury, Vermont, to Portland, Oregon, booksellers had upbeat news, including plans for expansion at Bridgeside Books in Vermont, a massive grand opening turnout at Flyleaf Books in North Carolina, and repeatedly hearing from customers, "We're so glad you're here -- this is just what the neighborhood needed" at Greenlight Bookstore in New York.

Bridgeside Books

Hiata DeFeo opened Bridgeside Books in Waterbury, Vermont, on July 18. DeFeo plans to expand the 500-square-foot store into the space next door in the next year and add a small coffee/tea counter, along with more seating and more books. 

The general bookstore caters to book groups and works with several in the area, said DeFeo. "This was a focus of my business plan, but it has really taken off and is more successful than I anticipated."

Bridgeside Books has fit right into Waterbury. "The community has been so supportive, welcoming, and is making the effort to 'Keep it Local'. There is nothing like my shop in the area, so I really benefit from being a niche business. I have been able to meet and exceed my forecasts for year one."

Bridgeside had an "amazing community turnout" for its grand opening in August. "I thought my family and some friends would come because they had to," said DeFeo. "But more than 100 customers, supporters, friends, and family came to the ribbon cutting and party. The holidays were fantastic, and I blew my projections out of the water... I had a great Holiday Open House, and my tiny shop was packed. It was the best party in town!"

Maintaining that momentum is "all about constantly marketing, keeping things fresh, being welcoming and friendly, going above and beyond so that the customer wants to come back to my shop versus going to a box store or going online," she said. "They have a choice, and I want them to choose me."

Greenlight Bookstore

In Brooklyn, New York, Greenlight Bookstore held its official opening on October 24. Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, who launched the 2,000-square-foot store with Rebecca Fitting, said, "The neighborhood has completely embraced the store, and in some ways it feels like we've always been here. A neighborhood survey back in 2008 showed that Fort Greene residents wanted an independent bookstore, and they're showing us they meant it with their book-buying dollars."

Stockton Bagnulo listed some first-year highlights:

"1) The moment at our Launch Party when [Brooklyn Borough President] Marty Markowitz declared October 24 'Greenlight Bookstore Day.'
2) Every time someone says, 'We're so glad you're here -- this is just what the neighborhood needed.'
3) And every time a kid begs his parents to stay in the bookstore just a little bit longer."

Stockton Bagnulo also appreciates the support from publishers who are providing promo materials and first-rate authors for events. "We're still very much a work in progress, but we're happy with how things are shaping up so far!" 

Flyleaf Books

Jamie Fiocco, Land Arnold, and Sarah Carr opened Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, just before the holidays and were immediately off to a "whirlwind" start. They expected about 150 people at the store's grand opening, and had 350 show up. The 7,250-square-foot general bookstore stocks large children's and local author sections.

"The first quarter has been slow but steady, and the community support has been tremendous," said Fiocco. "The support from the industry -- publishers, reps, wholesalers, advertisers, suppliers -- has been fantastic; it's really helped us feel like we're not doing this totally alone." 

Bertram & Oliver Booksellers

Bertram & Oliver Booksellers opened on August 1, 2009, in Amesbury, Massachusetts. Owner Joanne Wimberly focuses on classics, poetry, children's books, mystery, history, and local authors within the 660-square-foot store.

When choosing her inventory, Wimberly sought to balance current titles with a lifetime of favorites. "I had lists from family, friends, past colleagues, and new customers," she said. The careful curation paid off. "Several months after opening I realized that I had received the same compliment at least 10 times in one week: 'You have a great selection!'" 

Thanks to word-of-mouth and programs to foster and keep young readers, Bertram & Oliver's customer base is growing. "We have a program in which we gift a baby book to every new baby born to town residents," she said. "We established our mystery book club last November, and it has been a success! We have lots of good discussion, good food and drink, and enjoy our monthly meetings. I feel positive about the future and our role in this community."

Part of that role includes promoting Buy Local campaigns. Wimberly explained, "We are educating the community on the concrete benefits of spending 10 percent of their budget at their local, independently-owned retail shops."

Eclectic Books

Eclectic Books in Murrieta, California, will celebrate its first anniversary on April 8. "We are primarily a used book store, but we have made sure to have plenty of new classics, DIY books and hand-made gifts by local artisans," said Heather Henry, who co-owns the 3,300-square-foot store with Tess Sheets. Eclectic hosts open-mic nights twice a month and has four reading groups, two sponsored by the store, including a teen reading group.

Overall, Henry said, "Of course we could use more business, but every day we have new customers and we are growing. Every day we meet amazing people with amazing lives and ideas, plus we get to be surrounded by books all day long." She also thanked ABA and IndieBound, which she said "made a huge difference and is contributing greatly to our success."

Green Bean Books

Jennifer Green, a former elementary school teacher, opened Portland, Oregon's Green Bean Books on July 9. The 500-square-foot new and used children's bookstore offers a small adult section of handpicked good reads, with a specialization in multicultural and foreign language children's books. The store has a deck and side yard for hosting outdoor events. Green said via e-mail, "I do story time under the beautiful draping mulberry bush in the summer (it's like a fort)."

The store is unique because of "its secret dioramas hidden in the shelves, refurbished vending machines that dispense homemade finger puppets, mustaches and beards, miniature journals and pencils and tattoos," said Green. "Two neighbor boys down the street decided to collect all the finger puppets in the finger puppet machine last summer. Then they went home and hand-sewed a little bed to tuck them all in." 

Green's goal was to "create not just a bookstore, but a fun experience for kids." One seven-year-old told her, "This is my favorite place in the whole world!" --Karen Schechner

Read more about bookstores that opened in 2009.