Her nine-year-old daughter’s life-threatening nut allergies coupled with her husband’s job shift to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., led Kirsten Hess, former new business initiatives, marketing, and events director at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., to sign a lease for a cottage in Emmaus, Pa., where she will open a children’s specialty store, Let’s Play Books!
Hess, whose background is in corporate leadership and development and hospitality/event management, told PW that she learned to appreciate the power of a book when her daughter was first diagnosed seven years ago and she needed to educate those around her about her daughter’s needs. “The books said things I didn’t know how to,” said Hess. “I also learned [that] children want to learn, they want to be read to, they want to help, they want to be a good friend.”
Nearly three years ago, Hess came up with the idea for launching a literacy foundation, Let’s Play Books!, and held several story times and other kids events, including one at the New Haven Home Recovery, a women and children’s shelter. But she never filed the paperwork. “My time [at R.J. Julia] confirmed that if I was able to work with children and books, I wouldn’t have to work another day in my life,” said Hess, who regards bookselling as too much fun to be work.
She hadn’t planned to open a store so soon. Originally she was going to begin exploring spaces and do a study this summer. But, she said, “the space found me.” The 900 sq. ft. cottage is smaller than she was originally thinking of for the store, but her husband convinced her that there would still be plenty of space for books and programming, including ESL story times, book clubs, and author/illustrator events. It will also be big enough to carry a selection of new and used children’s books, along with parenting titles and books on childcare and special needs. The store will also stock some nonbook items, as long as they are eco-friendly, American made, or fair trade.
Let’s Play Books will have its soft opening on Small Business Saturday, November 30. Hess hasn’t set a grand opening yet. It is a for-proft store, and Hess is considering offering 25% or more of the net profits to run literacy programs and supply books outside the for in-need communities.
In other children’s specialty bookstore news, nine-year-old Spellbound Children’s Bookshop in Asheville, N.C., celebrated its grand reopening on Saturday, October 26, at The Lofts at Reynolds Village, a new mixed-use development. It’s the store’s second move in nearly two years. In February 2012 it relocated to ZaPOW gallery.