Paul Swydan, whose parents and grandparents were small business owners, had long considered starting his own business when Willow Books in Acton, Massachusetts, announced it was closing early last year. This past March, Swydan opened The Silver Unicorn Bookstore in Acton.
Here, Swydan talks with Bookselling This Week about the origin of the store’s name, his favorite events and book clubs, and what he’s looking forward to as a new bookstore owner.
Bookselling This Week: Why did you decide to name the store The Silver Unicorn?
Paul Swydan: It’s not a thoroughly entertaining story. As I was researching names, I came to the conclusion that there are three types of bookstore names: geography-based (Main Street Books), puns/literary names (The Poisoned Pen), and other. I like being in the “other” camp, so that led me to think a little outside of the box. I like unicorns, and they’ve become more ubiquitous. Basketball players like Kristaps Porziņģis are routinely called unicorns now, and food is called unicorn food, so the word has lost the fantasy-tinged overtones it used to have. But “The Unicorn Bookstore” didn’t sound right to me; it needed another word. And my favorite color is silver, so there you go! Kind of long-winded. My cousin who’s a publicist keeps telling me I need to invent a better backstory, but that wouldn’t be the truth.
BTW: Does The Silver Unicorn have any specialties or host any book clubs?
PS: We try very hard to be a bookstore for everyone, and to be a good community partner. Beyond that, I don’t know that we have any definitive specialties, though we certainly have a better feel for some types of books than others. We host four book clubs, three in store and one online. We host a middle-grade book club with local author Rebecca Caprara, whose debut novel, The Magic of Melwick Orchard, was published this year through Lerner/Carolrhoda. We host a young adult book club that my teenage employees run in conjunction with our town’s high school librarian. And we also host a fiction book club here in the store, and a baseball book club online at my former employer’s website, FanGraphs.com.
BTW: What have been your favorite events you’ve hosted so far?
PS: Oh, so many! Honestly, my absolute favorite events have been our literacy nights with our local schools. Our school district has six elementary schools, and we’ve hosted literacy nights with all of them, where the school’s teachers/administrators come and read to the kids, and a portion of the sales go to the school’s parent-teacher organization.
In terms of author events, my favorite have been with Peter H. Reynolds, Gregory Maguire, Josh Funk, Sara Farizan, Jabari Asim, Heather Abel, Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, Keith Law, Keith O’Brien, and Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple. We’ve launched two picture books, Iver & Ellsworth by Casey Robinson (Ripple Grove Press) and Before You Sleep by Annie Cronin Romano (Page Street Kids), both of which were amazing events. Casey’s book is one of our bestsellers, and the day of her event we not only sold out of the books we had ordered, but her publisher then pulled books out of his trunk, and we sold all of those as well!
Our most unique event was held down the street at Orange Door Kitchen, with authors Jenna Blum, Crystal King, and Louise Miller. They have all written books that revolve around food, so Orange Door Kitchen prepared a three-course meal, with each course being a recipe from one of the books. As we ate, the authors talked about their book and the food we were eating and why they chose that recipe for our meal. It was fabulous!
BTW: What are you looking forward to?
PS: We’re just looking forward to growing and becoming more efficient in terms of back-of-the-house operations. We’ve learned a lot in our first year and are excited to see where that knowledge takes us in year two. Because we have a small space, we are always interested in doing outside-the-box events, and we may have an announcement about that soon. We’ve done three book fairs already and are looking forward to doing more of those in the near future.