Where There is a Will, There’s a Way

Whether we’re reading a classic novel or a new children’s picture book, it’s touching to see the little guy win. We root for the underdog with a valiant cause, valuing a noble struggle against all odds.

Yet the whole concept of “winning” is interesting in itself, since its definition is so personal. In business, you’d think that it boils down to sales and profits, market share and ROI. But for a small business like an indie bookstore, the definition can vary greatly. We pose the question in our workshops and love to hear the thought-filled responses.

Some want more freedom in their work day or flexibility to pick up kids from school, even having the kids help out in the business. Others want a canvas that allows them to be more creative. Some are tired of bumping their heads on a glass ceiling and know they have the skills to be on their own. Others want to follow a dream they’ve held for years. One said he just wants to grow old in the bookstore. All generally want to enrich their communities by providing a sense of place. Their idea of winning is to have a bookstore where people gather, share ideas, and learn from the exchange.

Just after the economic meltdown two years ago, two women who were in the midst of opening a bookstore in Brooklyn faced uphill battles for bank financing. They persisted with an alternative plan: raise funds from future customers. It worked and now Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting own the bustling indie bookstore Greenlight Books. You can listen to Jessica tell the story in this short video.

The media are finally beginning to notice that all is not doom and gloom, that there are some quite amazing stories about indie booksellers doing quite well. E-books may have been sexy for a while, but what is there to talk about after you’ve discussed the backlit screen quality and dictionary links … and that they’re contributing to the demise of indie booksellers? Meanwhile, many of those same bookstores keep sponsoring children’s storytime, hosting favorite authors, and staging events to bring customers into their stores. They vet the plethora of books being released each season, zero in on some remarkable new voices and love nothing more than talking about books with customers.

What drives the continued effort – and struggle against the odds – is love and passion and a belief in providing something of value for others. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

Who’s to say we can’t follow our dream, find ways to make things happen, and experience our own definition of success? All my life, my mother would say to me, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Today, even though she no longer walks this earth, those wise words ring true.

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