A bookseller since she was 20 years old, Janelle Smith has now embarked on the journey of becoming an indie bookstore owner. In April, Janelle and her husband, Ivan Smith, will open Wishing Tree Books in Spokane, Washington, a children’s bookstore with a mission to advance literacy, diversity, and acceptance through thoughtfully curated inventory, high-quality service, and neighborhood events.
Although Janelle Smith’s first job in the bookselling industry was at The Children’s Corner Bookshop in Spokane, Washington, when she was in her early twenties, her bookselling career can be traced back to a visit to Powell’s Books in Portland at just eight years old.
“A lady approached me to help her find a book for her granddaughter and I think it was then that I realized how amazing it was to recommend books to others,” Smith said. “I’ve wanted my own children’s bookstore almost my entire life. I was probably 14 when I started making lists of books I would carry and events I would hold.”
Smith has since held numerous bookselling positions. Most recently, she worked as children’s manager at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane. After leaving that position last year, Smith said that she felt it was time to make her dream a reality, adding that while the opportunity had presented itself several times in the past, this time it felt right.
“Everything in our lives has aligned to make this the perfect time. Our kids are older, our ‘village’ is super supportive, and the community is large enough,” she said, adding that the larger bookselling community has greatly supported her during this process. Fellow bookseller Tegan Tigani of Queen Anne Book Company and her husband, Jordan Tigani, are currently Smith’s investors; they’ve bought the house that is being renovated for Wishing Tree Books and will serve as Smith’s landlords.
The bookselling community has supported the Smiths in other ways throughout the process as well. Melissa Demotte, owner of The Well-Read Moose in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, helped Smith look for a location; the Smiths’ builder is the son-in-law of a former co-worker at The Children’s Corner Bookshop; and neighborhood businesses as well as other former co-workers have been giving the Smiths helpful tips and offering to help with social media.
The Smiths are currently planning the events they want to hold during their first few months in business. In April, they plan to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day, Children’s Book Week, and National Poetry Month. They also plan to work with a local Buddhist temple to hold a monthly story time devoted to compassion and kindness, and they plan to partner with Be Still Kids, a local kids’ yoga and mindfulness group, to host a yoga class in the store’s backyard.
In the summer of 2019, the Smiths intend to launch Neighborhood Reads, a program that encourages the whole neighborhood to read the same book as a community-building activity. The store will also host two programs geared toward promoting literacy: Sharing Books, which will suggest different ways children can use language to learn, and Literacy for Families, a workshop-style program that will invite different nonprofits to work with low-income and marginalized families to teach the importance of reading to children.
In addition to events and other programming, Smith said that the store will work with a number of different organizations to host book groups, including the Odyssey Youth Movement, which supports LGBTQ youth in the Spokane area, and a local high school teacher who works with refugee students. “The goal is to connect through stories, and to create compassion and understanding,” Smith said.
The store’s mission of inclusivity and acceptance even extends to its name. Smith said that while The Wishing Tree initially grew out of the couple’s love for trees, as their first date was at the Finch Arboretum and Ivan Smith even wrote and illustrated a book for Janelle about a tree and the last leaf to let go in the fall, but the name truly stuck when a fellow bookseller pointed out its similarity to Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree (Macmillan).
“[Applegate’s] story is exactly what I want our store to be,” Smith added. “A place of belonging for all, where the stories reflect all people and we can help in spreading kindness and understanding.”