While the number of children’s-only bookstores may be dwindling, on the East Coast the ranks are growing with this summer’s addition of Edgewater Books near Annapolis, Md., and the expansion of Park Street Books & Toys in Medfield, Mass., which sells new and used books for kids. On June 1 Park Street will celebrate the grand opening of its new location on Main Street, around the corner from its original Park Street location, where it began in 2008. At approximately 2,800 sq. ft., the Main Street store is more than 20% larger than the original one. But that’s just a portion of Park Street’s space, since owner Jim James, a former preschool teacher, is keeping the 1,200 sq. ft. noncontiguous space in the Park Street building that the store uses for events. James plans to continue to offer children classes on sewing, knitting, and science, along with pottery parties and summer camp. It’s where he launched the Pottery Place (a space within the story where visitors can paint a selection of pottery), four years ago. In addition Park Street will use the attic and basement at the new site for overstock, along with the 4,000 sq. ft. barn next to his house.
Park Street’s inventory is already over a million books, which is why James gave his store the tagline “New England’s Largest Children’s Bookstore.” At any given time 100,000 books – roughly 70,000 titles – are on store shelves. Many of the books Park Street carries are different from those found in other independents, or chain bookstores for that matter, since James stocks many more obscure titles both new and used. His decision to ignore the business dictum of “80% of sales come from 20% of inventory” has helped his store realize high double-digit growth. “We were growing steadily, and last year we had a 70% jump in sales. We didn’t see it coming. Right now we’re scrambling to keep up with it all,” says James. The store’s classes also contribute by bringing in customers and in the case of pottery, revenue – so much so that the new bookstore will have its own pottery drop-in area.
The new Park Street is a work in progress. At the beginning of May roughly 100 volunteers helped James box books and carry them to the new store. Volunteers are continuing to help him unpack at the new location, which is open during the transition. James says that the most frustrating part of the move is that he can’t always get to the books he knows the store has in its inventory. But the store’s rooms, each named for a different author or illustrator, including local illustrator David Biedrzycki (Dory Story), are beginning to take shape.
One volunteer has been so enthusiastic that he’s opening a store of his own. Ken Kennedy, who went to Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo., with James, will open Edgewater Books in Edgewater, Md., on August 19. “I got my inspiration from Park Street,” says Kennedy, who used to be in IT sales before he burned out and turned to children’s books. In addition to the 1,500 sq. ft. children’s bookstore he is planning to open, Kennedy also runs Language Advantage, a foreign-language program for kids. “We recently started a local Spanish storytime at a coffee shop and a yogurt shop,” says Kennedy, who plans to hold a similar storytime in the bookstore.
Although Kennedy is still figuring out what he wants to stock, he’s already planning on foreign-language books for kids, as well as eco-friendly stuffed animals and educational toys. The community of Edgewater is located on the Chesapeake Bay and has a large home-school population. Kennedy’s store will cater to parents and educators; the next closest children’s store is in Baltimore, nearly 40 miles away.
And Edgewater Books is already working with its local TD Bank on its summer reading program, before the store even opens. The bank deposits $10 in a new savings account for each child who reads ten books between now and the end of September. Kennedy is planning to add an additional $5 and invites those looking for book suggestions to contact him through the store’s new Web site.