Local couple Seth Marko and Jen Powell have purchased the West Grove Collective in San Diego, California, a book and gift store they plan to rebrand as The Book Catapult, a general-interest bookstore.
The new 1,300-square-foot bookstore located in the city’s South Park neighborhood takes its name from the literary blog Marko started in 2006 while working at Warwick’s in La Jolla, which is also where he met Powell, his co-worker at the time. Marko, now an Ingram Content Group field sales representative for bookstores along the West Coast, said he plans to integrate the blog into the new store’s website and to continue with events similar to the ones The Book Catapult put on at Warwick’s, such as the South Park Donnybrook and interviews with authors like David Mitchell and Anthony Doerr.
Marko, who has also worked at Octavia Books in New Orleans and as a buyer for the University of San Diego Bookstore, said that while the focus of The Book Catapult’s collection will be paperback fiction, he will also use his experience as a buyer to bring in more unusual frontlist and backlist titles.
“As cliché as it is, a big part of an indie bookstore’s success is curation,” said Marko. “When you have a small space, you really have to tailor it to what you think the market is interested in. We are going to have a big kids’ section because there are a lot of families in the neighborhood, but there is really not a place for people to buy a lot of kids’ books. Right now, Jen and I are identifying what we like and what is important to us, and hopefully that translates to the community at large.”
Current West Grove Collective owner Anne Mery opened The Grove, a book and gift store, 14 years ago. In 2015, a wall was added to separate that space into two distinct businesses: The West Grove Collective, still selling books and gifts, and South Park Dry Goods, owned by another proprietor. About half of West Grove Collective’s space was devoted to books, while the rest was rented out to local vendors. The Collective sold merchandise on these vendors’ behalf, including paper arts, clothing, music, travel accessories, and kitchen, home, and garden accessories.
Mery said she is excited to start her next chapter and has confidence in turning the store over to Marko and Powell. One of Mery’s part-time employees, Vanessa Diaz, will also join the couple at the new store.
“With their background in the book business and their desire to keep the book movement fresh, independent, and local, I’m confident that they will be a perfect fit for the South Park community,” Mery wrote in a letter to customers. “It’s been exciting to watch the neighborhood develop over my 14 years of working here. I’ve been fortunate to get to know so many of you and I’m grateful for the friendships and the shared conversations about books, family, and life in general.”
While they won’t be looking for any new local vendors, Marko said, The Book Catapult will continue to sell goods from Mery’s three vendors in a boutique space within the larger store: Kalika, which sells mostly women’s clothing and jewelry; Happy Home, which sells home goods; and Folk Project, which sells textiles and Mexican art.
“Right now, less than half of the current retail space is books, but books are the sales leader at West Grove, so that’s how we arrived at this opportunity,” said Marko. “This space has a lot of potential: the size of it is very conducive to a full-on bookstore, so our plan is to move some of the vendors and make more room for books.” Marko is looking to negotiate the current space with the vendors and reserve about 1,000 square feet for books.
Powell, who previously worked in advertising, marketing, and graphic design, will manage the store’s daily operations and serve as the store’s sidelines buyer, while Marko, who plans to keep his job at Ingram, will handle most of the book buying. One key item on the new co-owners’ to-do list is to make the space more inviting, welcoming, and comfortable, Powell said, so that it really lives up to that concept of a “third place” between home and work.
“What we’ll start with is a strong events program, getting authors in and getting people in touch with them,” said Powell. “We want to create a forum where people can talk and interact and explore, and use books as a launching point for that,” whether by providing a well-curated selection of books, story times for kids, author signings, or book clubs that meet at the store, she said. The most important part of this effort will be putting on high-quality events, something Marko has seen proven time and again at stores he visited through Ingram.
“Any bookstore right now will tell you that events are huge for the bottom line and for creating a footprint in the community,” said Marko. “That’s what this is really all about for us: Becoming part of this great community in San Diego where we live.”
After closing for a few days for the transition, the new bookstore will hold a soft opening at the neighborhood’s annual Fall South Park Walkabout on Saturday, October 7, which will feature food trucks, live music, and sales at local businesses.