This is the second in a two-part series, providing an in-depth look at new and soon-to-open children’s bookstores.
Today’s children’s bookstore owners are drawn from many walks of life, including previous stints in children’s bookselling. Andy Laties, author of Rebel Bookseller (Seven Stories), previously owned two children’s bookstores, since closed, and in 1987 received the prestigious Pannell Award for excellence in children’s bookselling. He was most recently manager of New York City’s Bank Street Books before he and his wife, Rebecca Migdal, author of the forthcoming picture book Mermaids Fast Asleep (Feiwel and Friends), opened Book and Puppet Company in Easton, Pa.
What makes Laties and Migdal’s 1,800 sq. ft. store stand out among other recent children’s bookstores is not just the depth of the bookselling knowledge that they bring to it, but 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.” Right now the store, which is 70% children’s, has a strong selection of social justice and pop culture titles for adults. If customers want a general independent bookstore, he and Migdal said they would adjust the inventory.
Initially the pair had planned to open the store in New York’s Hudson Valley. Unable to find an affordable location, they looked at Easton, where a good friend of Migdal’s had moved 15 years earlier. The town is located in Lehigh Valley, one of the fastest growing areas in the country, and is about an hour and a half drive from Philadelphia and New York City. Easton also has the longest-running farmers’ market in the country and one of the oldest colleges, Lafayette College.
Despite the many positives, Laties acknowledged that “it’s definitely challenging to do this. People here are willing to pay for experiences, but not stuff.” But it’s still early days. In addition to catering to young families with 2–6-year-olds, the store carries a strong selection of sidelines for their parents, including political postcards, James Baldwin votive candles, and Obama finger puppets. And Migdal and Laties have brought their kids’ puppetry program on Fractured Fables, which was successful at Bank Street, to Book and Puppet. They’ve also introduced an adult version, Mangled Myths.
For most new children’s bookstores, simply promoting literacy is political. But art plays a key role, too, at 1,100 sq. ft. Read with Me, A Children’s Book and Art Shop, which Christine Brenner opened in Raleigh, N.C. in April. The store has a designated area for crafts and offers classes in book making and hand lettering. A local muralist decorates the chalkboard that covers the back wall, and pictures by local artists, including an eight-year-old boy, are on display above the book cases. One of Brenner’s long-term goals is to start a children’s literature and art festival.
A former teacher and school librarian, Brenner describes running the store as a “constant learning process.” The store’s location, near the Marbles Kids Museum downtown “has been good for us,” Brenner said. “We get a lot of Marbles traffic.” She’s about to begin offering in-store book fairs. Books are arranged face out by age. Board books are located on the bottom row, picture books one shelf up; and YA is on the top shelf. Popular books like Wonder and authors like Mo Willems get their own sections. And Brenner tries to make sure all types of people are represented on the shelves. “I have parents thank me,” she said, “for having board books with people of color.”
Former educator Kimberly Cake and her mother, Sandy Loomis, opened 1,800 sq. ft. Enchanted Passage in a Victorian house in Sutton, Mass., almost exactly one year ago in December 2016. Like Zsamé Morgan, who will open the mobile bookstore Babycake’s Bookstack in the spring, a life event, in this case the premature birth of Cake’s daughter, Kristiana, at 24 weeks, caused her to search for a profession that would allow her to spend more time with her daughter. “We love being able to do this as a family. And the store is becoming a family,” said Cake. “My favorite part is finding kids the books they want to read.”
As a new bookseller, one of Cake’s challenges has been learning the shopping rhythms of her community and adjusting store hours to meet expectations. Many families were away for the summer, which was slow. She also struggles with getting the word out that the area now has a children’s bookstore. “We’re really trying to work on being a destination,” said Cake, who hosts birthday parties and storytimes, including sensitive storytimes with softer lighting and a different selection of books for kids that need to avoid over stimulation. Bestselling books range from Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series (Little, Brown), which one eight-year-old chose for the theme of a birthday party; R.J. Palacio’s Wonder (Knopf); Tui T. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series (Scholastic Press); and Gitty Daneshvari’s School of Fear series (Little, Brown).
Melissa Music decided to open a children’s bookstore after homeschooling her four children for seven years. “I wanted to open a place that would inspire kids to read, where it seems like stories come to life,” she said, describing the 3,000 sq. ft. Story Shop in Monroe, Ga. She got the idea a year ago last May and opened the store five months later, in October 2016.
In keeping with the story theme, kids go through a Narnia wardrobe to get to the events room. Store activities range from a Fancy Nancy Fashion Show during New York Fashion Week to a family fiesta for the publication of Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri’s Dragons Love Tacos 2 (Dial). Music’s oldest daughter leads the toddler storytime.
“I’m having fun and the community has welcomed us,” said Music, who estimates that she sells more picture books than anything else. The store does well with Donald Lemke and Bob Lentz’s Wearable Books series (Capstone) with Book-O-Hats, Book-O-Beards, and Book-O-Masks; and Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld’s Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site (Chronicle). Fairy and pirate books, which have their own table displays, are also strong sellers.
Several children’s booksellers hope to launch physical bookstores sometime in 2018, including one of the only ones geared specially to older kids, Flashlight Books in Walnut Creek, Calif. College friends Shoshana Smith and Marian Adducci, who worked together at the Reading Bug in San Carlos, Calif., would like to find a way to drive sales to preteens and teens, an age group that many kids’ stores have trouble reaching. “We know that the money’s in board books and picture books,” said Smith. “We’ll still have storytimes and craft times. Our décor is going to be a little less babyish, while still having a play space. We want to host tutoring sessions and get teachers to work with us. We want to host open mic nights. That’s our dream.”
An Indiegogo fundraiser last spring netted just over $14,000 toward Smith and Adducci’s fundraising goal of $50,000 for renting and stocking a 2,000 sq. ft. store. But they are planning to go ahead with their idea for a children’s store that integrates used, new, and remainder books. They are considering a second fundraiser coupled with a loan and hope to find a space by next spring.
Lorielle Hollaway is also looking for a space to open Cultured Books in St. Petersburg, Fla.’s historic 22nd Street South District, once the city’s main black street. She was inspired to start the bookstore after taking a class at Hillsborough Community College on public speaking and anthropology with a teacher who wanted students to be part of their communities. It was then that Hollaway realized that she wanted to “better shape the world through picture books.” Her tag line for the store is: “Fostering a reading culture by exposing children to the world; through art, music, and picture books!”
Maureen McDole, founder of Keep St. Pete Lit, has been acting as a mentor to Hollaway, who has opened a succession of pop-up shops this fall, beginning with one in late October at the Soul on the Deuces Street Festival in St. Petersburg, while she looks for a permanent location. For Indies First/Small Business Saturday, Hollaway ran a pop-up shop at The Well, which is located in her desired location of 22nd Street South. Poet Useni Eugene Perkins and Bryan Collier’s Hey Black Child (Little, Brown) was her bestselling book. Hollaway’s young daughters, Nadia and Ava, help her decide what books to source.
That former booksellers, educators, and home school mothers are opening new children’s specialty stores is not only a good thing for the book business as a whole, but for the next generation of readers. As Cover to Cover’s new owner Melia Wolfe noted when asked why she wanted to have a children’s bookstore, “My goal is to inspire children to become lifetime readers.”
For more about other new and soon-to-open bookstores, click here to read part one of this story.