Ever since word slipped out two years ago, at BookExpo America, that Jeff Kinney was considering opening a bookstore in his adopted town of Plainville, Mass., excitement has been building over what the Diary of a Wimpy Kid author would create. After all, he’s had the opportunity to visit hundreds of stores while touring, and he writes for kids.
An Unlikely Story, which is slated to open in mid-May, will be a nearly 3,000 sq. ft. environmentally friendly general bookstore/community center in a town with a population of roughly 8,000. Earlier this week when Kinney gave PW a tour of the space, he talked of the magical elements he's hoping to bring to the store. Among other things, he’s planning to set up a Quidditch match above the children’s section, with replicas of the brooms used in the Harry Potter films. He also wants to have books appear to dance through the air overhead.
“We’re looking for ways to make this whimsical,” explained Kinney, who is involved in every detail of the bookstore. Right now, though, the air is filled with the earthy scent of tung oil, which was recently applied to the floor on the main level, to protect the reclaimed maple floor. The bookstore and café will be located in this space.
While Kinney confirmed that there will be a small Wimpy Kid section in the store, he said that does not want to "make it a Wimpy Kid store." Instead, as a nod to young fans, he’s planning to open up his studio, which will be on the third floor. When he’s not in the bookstore studio—Kinney currently works in a house next to his home—children will be able to hold some of the awards he’s received, including his Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards; draw on his tablet; and touch the 300-pound statue of Scrooge McDuck created by his “all-time favorite” artist, Carl Barks.
The floor below will have a 150-seat events space for author talks, karaoke, retirement parties, and classes (on everything from cartooning to screenwriting to yoga). A 10-foot wide screen, along with monitors, is yet to be installed. An area at the far end of the floor will house a kitchenette. From there, kids will be able to get juice, while adults can purchase beer and wine. The latter will only happen, though, if the town grants a liquor license. The space will also house a conference room, which can be rented.
Although Kinney said he never planned to get into the food business, the basement has a walk-in refrigerator and giant sink, along with an oven for food prep for the cafe. The basement also has space for shipping and receiving.
For Kinney, “this is like having a big house, but for the community.” The store is on the site of what had long been the town’s general store, once an anchor of the downtown. Although he wasn’t able to save the building, which was too rundown, Kinney plans to honor it and its significance to Plainville. With that in mind, the bookstore exterior resembles the original market, including the porch where people used to hang out. Glass panels that separate the events area will be covered with an image of the original store.
That it took a bestselling children’s book author and illustrator to create a space to showcase new books in a small town 50 minutes south of Boston, and to build it from the ground up, is An Unlikely Story indeed.