Author Julie Berry’s stories span genres and formats, landing on the shelves of bookstores’ YA, picture book, and middle grade sections. Soon, one of those bookstores will be her own. The Lovely War author has purchased a bookstore in her childhood hometown of Medina, N.Y., moving cross-country from Los Angeles with her family, all to open the newly renovated and renamed Author’s Note.
Between renovations that involve uncovering a molded tin ceiling, Berry talked with PW about her homecoming and her new journey in the world of independent bookselling.
What made you decide to buy an independent bookstore?
I was born and raised in Medina, so this little town has always been my home. I haven’t lived here since I was in high school, but Medina has always been so good to me. [The people here have been so supportive of my work as an author and have really embraced me.
And the fact is that very few of us in the book world don’t have at least some level of secret fantasy of starting a bookstore. I have the career that I have today as an author because of the support of independent booksellers and how they’ve championed me. So many of them have become my dear friends over the years. I’ve tried to really pay attention to that industry and those relationships.
With all of this as backdrop, when I heard that the bookstore in Medina had gone up for sale, towards the start of the pandemic, I just… I had to have it.
What is the location like?
The space itself is really well situated, which I think is really important. It is on Main Street, in a historic downtown shopping district, in a town that boasts one of those beautiful turn-of-the-century Main Street areas. A lot of new restaurants are coming in and there’s this lovely opera house that’s being meticulously restored to its original glory. The space itself is narrow, long, and very charming and we’re doing a complete renovation; we just pulled down the ceiling tiles and discovered, you know, antique molded tin ceiling up.
How are you learning the ropes?
There’s certainly a lot to learn in starting a bookstore, and I’m confronted daily with, “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.” So I’m learning as I go. Paul Swydan of Silver Unicorn Books in Acton, Massachusetts has become a very good friend. I lived for many years in Maynard, which is right next door to Acton, where Silver Unicorn is. About a year ago, when I started cooking up this plot, I reached out to him and said, “Okay, so tell me what it’s like to start a bookstore now. What’s the climate like? How do you make it work?”
He was very frank and open with me, and very encouraging. He shared his story, his experiences, tips, and techniques. The remarkable example at Silver Unicorn is that he has shown what is possible for bookstores that actively create strong relationships with their customers digitally. He has done such a fantastic job with email and social media, and with online ordering, and with creating a community that exists as powerfully online as it does in person. Everybody loves a bookstore as a great place to go to, but I feel like Paul has made sure that you can go to Silver Unicorn from wherever you are. It doesn’t feel canned. It feels very natural and organic.
How do you know what books you want to have in the store?
Well, in that regard, I’m really fortunate. I have a wonderful buyer, who just so happens to also be my cousin and dear friend—Erica Caldwell—and she is a bookseller as well. She has her finger on the pulse of what Western New York buyers are looking for, and she is doing a really nice job of bridging the classic and traditional with new and up and coming titles. So even though we’re not open, we’re actively ordering and selling books online, and that’s due to her excellent taste. As for me, I love that I get to also have some input; I get to stock books by my favorite authors and all my author friends. That’s a big part of what this story is about, as authors know. It’s all about creating relationships between readers and authors and bringing authors closer to readers.
The one thing that I’m sure of is that we are not going to be all children’s books, but we are going to have a big children’s section. There’s a whole cosmos in the children’s section of a bookstore because it’s where a child’s imagination grows and expands.
What’s been the reception from the community?
We’re not even open for browsing yet and I have been blown away by the special orders and the outreach that I’ve received from people who live an hour away, but clearly frequent the store to pick up online orders, and make the point of coming here to place orders. That’s just kind of how life is out here. Being in the local community is important to them.
Do you have any new books publishing in time to be on your own bookstore’s shelves when it opens?
Yes! I just delivered Book 2 in the Wishes and Wellingtons series. It’s called Crime and Carpetbags [Sourcebooks Young Readers, Oct.]. I am working on a new YA novel with Simon and Schuster. And Cranky Right Now [Sounds True] is coming out in May and is a companion to Happy Right Now.