The number of independent bookstores in the U.S. has risen 35% since 2009, according to American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher. Though general bookstores make up the bulk of the roughly 2,320 ABA member store locations, children’s specialty stores have contributed to the store increase. Not only have new children’s bookstores opened around the country but established outlets—like 37-year-old Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers in Columbus, Ohio—have found buyers.
“In general, people are feeling more confident about getting into bookselling,” said Donna Paz Kaufman of the Bookstore Training Group of Paz & Associates. She herself is opening a general bookstore in Fernandina Beach, Fla., called Story & Song Bookstore Bistro. Kaufman indicated that factors like a strong economy and a desire to fill community needs following the closure of chains like Borders and Hastings Entertainment are contributing to the increase in new stores. She regards this as “a marvelous time” to open a children’s specialty bookstore. “Millennial parents are registering for books for shower and new baby gifts. It’s wonderful to see, since they’re the first truly wired group to start families,” Kaufman noted.
Now We Are Two, or Three
Since recovering from the recession, many general booksellers have added second and third locations. But New York City’s Books of Wonder is the only children’s specialty bookstore to do so in recent years. In September, the 37-year-old bookstore opened a second store on the city’s Upper West Side. Owner and founder Peter Glassman views the new 2,600-sq.-ft. store as insurance—a backup should he run into difficulties renegotiating the lease for his longtime base on West 18th Street. Glassman also felt that the economy made it a good time to expand. In addition, Glassman, who is 57, has begun thinking about leaving a children’s bookselling legacy. For him, the new store is only the beginning. “I’d like to have more stores in the New York metropolitan area,” he said. “I don’t want Books of Wonder to die with me.”
The strength of children’s book sales have encouraged general bookstore proprietors, like Suzanne Harouff, owner of the 3,000-sq.-ft. Books Unlimited in Franklin, N.C., to open separate children’s stores near their flagship locations. In July 2016, Harouff launched Unlimited Books for Kids two doors down from her main store. Over the summer she significantly upped the square footage of the new store, which is now nearly half the size of the main store. “The store is doing amazingly well,” Harouff said. “The kids are so excited. One little boy said, ‘This store is just for me.’ ”
Word Bookstores hopes to open Word Kids (650 sq. ft.) two doors down from its Brooklyn store soon. Permit issues delayed what was to have been a spring 2017 opening in conjunction with the bookstore’s 10th anniversary. “We decided to break out kids books, because we know that [they] are one of the most profitable areas of our stores, and we just didn’t have the room to grow our kids’ section to what it deserved in Brooklyn,” said Christine Onorati, owner of Word in Brooklyn and Jersey City.
Bookstores in Canada are also experimenting with standalone kids’ stores. A decade ago, comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly opened Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, an 800-sq.-ft. general bookstore in Montreal’s Mile End neighborhood that offers prose and graphic novels. In early October, D&Q opened a second 1,000-sq.-ft. location for children, La Petite Librairie Drawn & Quarterly, further down the street.
“Our kids’ section has grown very organically over the past 10 years to become one of our bestselling sections in perhaps the store’s smallest space,” said D&Q’s publisher, Peggy Burns. For her, it just made sense to give children a store of their own in such a family-friendly neighborhood. She is quick to note that the new store is not exclusively a comics store. “We see it as a full-service French and English kids’ store,” she said.
Learning to Drive
For some new booksellers, learning to drive is part of the job, since operating a mobile bookstore requires a special license. In mid-November Zsamé Morgan, who will launch the mobile store Babycake’s Book Stack in the Twin Cities in the spring, went to Indiana to pick up the bookmobile that she is converting into a mobile bookstore. Originally, she had planned to open a bricks-and-mortar location in downtown St. Paul, Minn., next to a busy restaurant. “I decided it’s even better to go out into the community and not wait for people to come to me,” Morgan said. “Our motto was already ‘Around the world in a book.’ We’re adding wheels to it.”
Sara Ornelas opened Blue Baboon Books in Wichita, Kans., in July 2016 with a custom-built 7 ft. x 16 ft. trailer. “I always wanted a physical store,” she said. “I was a big reader when I was a kid, and I’ve been reading to my kids since the day they came home from the hospital.” Earlier this summer Ornelas opened a bricks-and-mortar store in a temporary location in NewMarket Square. Although she said that sales have been “good,” she’s not sure that she wants a permanent bookstore. Currently she is focusing on a new multiday book fair program that she launched earlier this month. “All the librarian needs to do is find the location,” she said; Blue Baboon provides the shelving, tables, and books.
Longtime bookseller Andy Laties (author of Rebel Bookseller), who was most recently manager of New York City’s Bank Street Books, opened the 1,800-sq.-ft. Book and Puppet Company in Easton, Pa., with his wife, Rebecca Migdal, this past September. Laties had operated two children’s stores in the past, and in 1987 he received a Pannell Award for excellence in children’s bookselling. But what makes his and Migdal’s new store stand out was their decision to position it as a progressive voice in a state that voted for Trump. “Both of us thought it’s a concept store,” Laties said. “But people [were excited that] Easton is getting an indie bookstore.” The store is currently 70% kids’ and has a strong selection of social justice and pop culture titles for adults. If customers want a general independent bookstore, Laties and Migdal said they will adjust the inventory.
For most children’s booksellers, a cause held dear is promoting literacy. Art is a key component of literacy at 1,100-sq.-ft. Read with Me, A Children’s Book and Art Shop, which former teacher and school librarian Christine Brenner opened in Raleigh, N.C., in April. The store has a designated area for crafts and offers classes in bookmaking and hand lettering. A chalkboard, which covers the back wall, is decorated by a local muralist, and pictures by local artists are displayed above the book cases. One of Brenner’s long-term goals is to start a children’s literature and art festival.
Several children’s specialty booksellers hope to launch stores in 2018. College friends Shoshana Smith and Marian Adducci, who worked together at the Reading Bug in San Carlos, Calif., are aiming to open Flashlight Books, geared to tweens and teens, in Walnut Creek next year. “We know that the money’s in board books and picture books,” Smith said, but “we’ll still have story times and craft times.” She added: “We want to host tutoring sessions and get teachers to work with us. We want to host open mic nights. That’s our dream.”
Lorielle Hollaway has been opening pop-up stores this fall while she looks for a permanent location for Cultured Books in the historic 22nd Street South District of St. Petersburg, Fla., once the city’s main black thoroughfare. She was inspired to start the store after taking a class at Hillsborough Community College by a teacher who encouraged students to take an active role in their communities. For Hollaway, that meant working with kids on reading. The tagline for her store is: “Fostering a reading culture by exposing children to the world; through art, music, and picture books!” Her young daughters, Nadia and Ava, help her select inventory.