Despite the success of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series—Hard Luck had a 48-week run on the children’s frontlist fiction chart last year, making it the longest-running bestseller in the category in 2014—Jeff Kinney has no intention of quitting his day job at Poptropica, a virtual world that he developed for kids. Instead the 44-year-old author-illustrator is adding an additional job title: bookstore owner.
“I’ve never done anything risky in my life,” Kinney says. “I wrote Diary of a Wimpy Kid in my off hours and continue to do so. It’s my passion to turn the success of Diary of a Wimpy Kid into something real.” For Kinney, that means building a downtown bookstore in Plainville, Mass., population 8,000, where he currently resides. He is using reclaimed wood and other environmentally friendly materials in a bid for LEED gold certification. If he succeeds, An Unlikely Story will become the second LEED sustainable trade bookstore in Massachusetts and the U.S., after Nantucket Bookworks.
Indie bookselling may be financially risky, but Kinney has planned the nearly 3,000-sq.-ft. bookstore and cafe carefully. And he’s had a chance to observe many stores firsthand on his book tours. “An Unlikely Story allows me to play with the truth,” Kinney says, explaining the store’s name. “We’re going to have fun with fables and tall tales.” That includes a replica of a Quidditch match above the children’s section, and books that appear to be flying overhead elsewhere in the store.
During the construction, Kinney has been visiting the store at least twice a day. “It gives me a sense of satisfaction,” he says. Even more satisfying is the opportunity to bring a bookstore to his community, after so many new bookstores have closed, including one where he grew up in Fort Washington, Md. “When I was a kid, we had a bookstore in my town that sold new books and magazines. I visited a few times a week, and the books I purchased there had a huge impact on my life,” Kinney says. “And then one day, the bookstore was gone and a valuable asset to the community was lost.”
Today, Kinney says, “I’m happy to see that many independent bookstores seem to be thriving. We feel lucky to be in a position to join that movement and to add a bookstore to the region.”
While it won’t be a Wimpy Kid bookstore, Kinney is planning a small dedicated section. More Wimpy Kid items will be upstairs in his third-floor studio. (He currently works in a studio next to his home.) Kids will be able to hold some of the awards he’s received, like his Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, and draw on his tablet.
The bookstore, which is located on the site of the town’s longtime general store, will also serve as a gathering place. In addition to the cafe, Kinney is planning a second-floor events space for everything from cartooning classes to retirement parties; a conference room that groups can rent; and even a telecommuting, or workshare space, across from his studio.
Like Blue Bunny Books and Toys in Dedham, Mass., which is owned by author-illustrator Peter H. Reynolds and his twin brother, writer Paul Reynolds, An Unlikely Story is intended to serve as a downtown anchor. “Our ambition is to create one great building,” Kinney says. “I’d love to see our bookstore inspire other businesses around the downtown.”