People seemed surprised to see us in New York City last week for BookExpo. With our own new bookstore just a bit over 3 months old, we did feel a bit like new parents leaving an infant for the first time. The difference is that we’ve been with our staff every inch of the day since set-up, so it was time to engage with the industry and be a part of the exciting Vital Bookstore project on the convention floor.

So many booksellers asked us to tell them about our experience and discoveries. Mark and I both had a similar response: “We knew it was a lot of work. Boy is it a lot of work!”

More than 20 volunteers joined the Story & Song Bookstore Bistro staff to help us unpack and organize 12,000 books plus cards and toys.

Last July we found a property we thought had potential. August we made an offer, then spent the rest of the month preparing our SBA (Small Business Administration) loan application and list of supporting documents from our existing business and personal lives. Contractors filled our time in September and October. On October 11 we got the keys and with permits and such, our contractors started in November and finished the day the fixtures arrived in mid-January.

There’s a lot to do. It all takes time. And, the work has just begun.

February 10 we opened for business. Then, the tasks changed completely. The focus moves from setting up to managing daily operations.

We were both in constant motion for at least six weeks. At the store training staff, receiving the back orders and non-book items that took more time than we expected. We were exhausted at the end of long days. And, there were still so many things still on the list that needed to be done.

The funny thing is that all of these tasks need to be done whether you have a 1,200 square foot store or a 5,000 square foot store. If you have a smaller store it may take you relatively less time, but the “To Do” list looks the same. Stock register cash, bookkeeping, social media and publicity, scheduling events, buying books, answering requests from authors, replenishing greeting cards, running Z tapes and starting it all again the next day.

Read through this and we hope you get the sense that bookselling is a complicated business regardless of your footprint. Now that we’re ringing sales, hosting events, and keeping the store stocked, it’s been non-stop … and we have had years doing this for others and are familiar with retail management and the book industry.

If your dream is to open and run a successful bookstore, do yourself a favor and take your time to learn, prepare, get training, set things up properly, and be ready for an amazing launch. It’s stressful enough when you schedule each phase of your start-up and give yourself some wiggle room for things to go wrong (because many will).

So, our advice remains the same … learn about your new industry and career, avoid imposing more stress with high start-up expectations, and make sure you continue to breathe as you work through the long list of things to do to turn that dream of your bookstore into reality.

When it comes to retail business, few companies find themselves involved in social and political issues like bookstores. The latest issue has been a response to North Carolina’s HB2 known as the NC “bathroom bill”. North Carolina has not protected workers who are LGBT and has language in HB2 that clarifies that the state does not intend to create a new class of protections based on sexual identity … and will not allow its cities and counties to create such a protected class.

We Are Not ThisAuthors have cancelled book tour stops in North Carolina and booksellers around the state have banned together to proclaim “we believe it is essential to be non-discriminatory, inclusive and tolerant, to promote freedom of speech and equality, and to guard against censorship and unfair treatment.”

Many of the beloved picture books we carry encourage respecting differences, actually embracing them. Our world becomes bigger and more compassionate when we don’t judge, bully, and isolate others.

The North Carolina booksellers are standing strong in their statement to their elected officials. They have a lot to lose in terms of their financial sustainability and ability to continue to provide safe spaces where people can gather and discuss issues, grow into their higher selves, and contribute to the evolution of humanity.

Bookstores are symbols of civility, education, lifelong learning, connection, and conversation. We celebrate the freedom to read, diversity and inclusivity.

Today, we in the book industry are shocked and saddened to see our colleagues in North Carolina battling for human rights in 2016 … in the United States of America. We can learn from the civil rights movement and all of those children’s books too. We stand with the North Carolina booksellers and believe we are better than this.

I guess it all started with my mom, a single mother raising two girls without a lot of resources, she learned to fix things. The local hardware stores, like local bookshops, were pressed to show their competitive advantages when the big box stores multiplied in towns everywhere.

Hackney Hardware in Dexter, Michigan - what a delightful experience!

Hackney Hardware in Dexter, Michigan – what a delightful experience!

Today, I love going to not just any hardware store, I love ACE Hardware stores. While in the Ann Arbor area recently, I visited Hackney ACE Hardware in Dexter Michigan. The stores are independently owned and operated and while they vary in their selection, all the ACE Hardware stores I’ve visited seem to show friendliness you can only find in a neighborhood business.

While I was walking along Main Street in Dexter, I came across a storefront with kitchen goods and toys visible from the sidewalk. Hold everything! I went in and headed right for the beautiful tabletop display. Where am I?

When I peaked around the corner, I could see I’d entered the hardware from a second entrance. I stumbled into a feature display of absorbent dish cloths. Some were imported and others were hand-crocheted with all cotton yarn. There were natural cleaning solutions for every household chore on an endocarp display. I’d never seen the brand before.

Near the cash wrap was a wall display of favorite soda pop and on the cash wrap counter was a display of Chuckles, those sugared jelly candies. How fabulous is that?!

The store was clean. The staff was friendly. The merchandise ranged from staples to wonderful discoveries. I found a few things to buy.

After my friends found me in Hackney Hardware and we were ready to press on, we walked and discovered a barber shop at the corner. The barber was inside cutting hair and talking with a few other men.

What a delightful experience on Main Street. When I’m in Dexter, I’m going back to Hackney’s Hardware.

This month we were fortunate to get to an item that’s been on our “Bucket List” for some time … visiting New Zealand. You might recall that the city of Christchurch had a nasty earthquake in 2011. Homes, churches, and businesses were severely damaged and tourism stopped.

Christchurch is on the rebound and the future now looks exciting as the city and the people have taken a mindful approach on how to rebuild.

In the meantime, the shops and restaurants are open!

Scorpio Books was among the retailers and restaurant owners to re-open after the earthquake - in a shipping container.

Scorpio Books was among the retailers and restaurant owners to re-open after the earthquake – in a shipping container.

We visited Re-START, a brilliantly conceived outdoor retail space consisting of temporary buildings made from shipping containers. When you walk into one of the shops you’d just think you were in a small space … the walls are painted, light fixtures are up, the HVAC works, and it’s business as usual.

Restaurants were serving people who were seated at bistro tables inside containers and on surrounding space.

The whole idea lends itself to authentic charm. Make lemonade out of those lemons!

Visiting Re-START is a reminder that especially after a catastrophe, we need places to gather, eat, and shop. Cafes and shops are symbols of normalcy; they are places people crave when their worlds have been turned upside down.

Small businesses have always been known for their resiliency, and the Kiwis proved that great new ideas can come from necessity.

Publishers Weekly does such a good job in reporting on research that affects the book industry and their recent snapshot on today’s educational e-book market prompted me to think about how the results will affect the sale of print books in bookstores as students become familiar with using e-books.

Children may regard ebooks like parents regard computer screens: work.

Children may regard ebooks like parents regard computer screens: work.

Quoting from the 2014 School Library Journal “Survey of E-book Usage in Schools,” PW notes that 66% of schools across the country currently offer e-books, a 10% increase over the previous year. The portion of children who have read at least one e-book has increased steadily over the last five years.

There are issues galore that the educational community are grappling with: the digital divide; the cost of ongoing investments in technology, tech support, and staff training; selecting and sourcing e-books; plus providing the format that is best for the student and the subject being taught.

If we look to the future, it appears that the number of ways we can read will expand. Being able to read has always been important to success in life, now technical skills will be needed to access information.

It’s interesting that booksellers whose spouses work for Apple and Facebook note that families with roots in the field want their children to read print. They want their children to be well-rounded and able to focus on reading without distraction. Many limit “screen time” and look for ways to maintain a healthy attention span when there are many temptations for digital escape.

What will the students of today prefer as they age? My call is that those who have a balanced diet of reading electronically and reading in print will be proficient in researching and skimming information as needed for tasks. When it comes to reading for fun, turning the pages of a print book will be a break from technology, offering a sensory experience during those cherished moments for quiet adventure.

As we hear and see the horrific stories of oppression in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and the growing number of countries being dominated by ISIS, it’s not only the physical brutality that is disturbing, but the limitation of education and free speech that dampens hope for the future. China limits internet access. After World War II,   we hoped we’d seen the end of government suppression of ideas. Not so.

Today, in the U.S. in the year 2015, two recent polls conducted by the Newseum Institute and the Harris Poll report that the number of people who think there are books that should be banned completely has grown from 18 percent of those surveyed to 28 percent. The polls also indicated that one third of Americans do not know what the First Amendment is.

Here is the language:

First Amendment – Religion and Expression. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It would be interesting to compare the results of these polls to those who measure how many Americans know about the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms.

The American Library Association reported that there were at least 311 books either challenged or removed in schools and libraries in 2014. Some of those books include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and others.

The list of challenged books gives us real reason to be concerned about the efforts to control the free flow of ideas.

The list of challenged books gives us real reason to be concerned about the efforts to control the free flow of ideas.

Every day, booksellers in the U.S. stand for our freedom to read. Banning books is a dangerous act that opens up a very slippery slope.

We’ll be celebrating Banned Books Week from September 27 through October 3. Read the list of frequently challenged books and the reasons why they have been challenged. Learn about the American Booksellers for Free Expression.

If we want to remain a free and open society, let the people decide for themselves what ideas and stories are worthy. Allow parents to be the ones to screen what their children read. While some unsavory, even hateful ideas will make its way into print, the greatness of the American way of life that government not limit the free flow of ideas. It’s the foundation of who we are and this freedom is worth preserving.

Spread the word. Read a banned book.

Last week during our full week workshop, we discussed book industry trends and talked about the future of reading and interest in bookstores. In this high tech world, it seems we still thirst for something real: real conversation, real friends, real book recommendations, real books.

Silicon Valley's Face In A Book has doubled its size.

Silicon Valley’s Face In A Book has doubled its size.

One of the past Paz grads came to mind, Tina Ferguson, owner of Face In A Book in Eldorado Hills, California. Tina’s husband is a Facebook employee and as parents immersed in the technology industry, Tina acknowledged that her friends were limiting screen time and encouraging their children to have their face in a real book. Today, Tina has just expanded her store. Business is strong and she’s having a wonderful time owning a bookstore.

By the cover of the Lands’ End catalog that arrived last week, it’s not those of us in the book industry craving quality time to think and interact. The headline of the Lands’ End catalog reads, “Rule #1: unplug. There is no rule #2. QUALITY. TIME.” The image chosen for the catalog is a family gathered around a picnic table in the yard.

Today’s world is demanding. We are pulled in many directions and our gadgets demand our attention throughout the day. How nice to unplug and have an authentic experience.

Reading a book. Talking with others about books. Browsing bookstores. Those are truly authentic connections.

During yesterday’s book and author breakfast at BookExpo America in New York City, we gathered, as usual, to learn about the new big books for fall and I was reminded how fortunate we are to sit and listen to writers … and the power of having more than one present during an event.

Authors Brandon Stanton, Kunal Nayyar, Diana Nyad, and Lee Smith speak during BookExpo America.

Authors Brandon Stanton, Kunal Nayyar, Diana Nyad, and Lee Smith speak during BookExpo America.

Kunal Nayyar (Big Bang Theory) was our master of ceremonies. He spoke about his upcoming book, Yes, My Accent Is Real, autobiographic essays, including his six day wedding in India with 1,000 people. He then introduced Lee Child, bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series who told us some about his years in England and past careers before telling us about his writing life. Diana Nyad then impersonated her Greek father when she was five, a conversation which lead to the reasons why she persisted to finally achieve success in swimming from Cuba to Key West and has told about it in her upcoming book, Find A Way. Last to speak was Brandon Stanton, photographer and author of the bestselling book Humans of New York which gave way to his newest, Humans of New York: Stories. I began blotting tears before Brandon even got through the first third of his presentation.

Prior to yesterday, I didn’t know Brandon Stanton’s work or his blog and must have just passed up the fact that he hit The New York Times #1 spot. Yet, Brandon’s own story touched me deeply. Imagine flunking out of college, getting axed from a job you imagined would make you wealthy, and instead finding yourself on the streets taking photos of and listening to stories of average people on the streets of New York City. I never would have been on the look-out for his new book, but now I’ve written the release date on my calendar: October 13, 2015.

You just never know when you’ll discover a great story, a remarkable writer, or one amazing human being.

While many noteworthy authors can engage an audience on their own, when bookstores want to help launch a less known author, pair them up with another author or create an event with a number of authors who all have their time to tell their story.

More and more, bookstores are hosting Local Author Nights where a number of writers come to make their presentations during a celebration of local talent. What could be three to five mediocre events becomes a well-attended event with a number of wonderful results. Not only do the authors bring their own followers, they meet one another and have time to meet readers beyond those in their own circle. For the bookstore, we sell more books … just because of the unexpected discoveries of those who come to sit and listen.

Bookstores are the ones that help readers make magical connections. It’s just another way bricks-and-mortar bookstores provide something that can’t be fully replicated online.

Author Mary Oliver is quoted, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” We read this quote at the close of the full-week workshop retreat.

30418757.thmAll decisions of importance really come down to this, don’t they? We have this one life. What will make us happy, feeling fulfilled, believing at the end that we’ve contributed in some way and enjoyed our time on earth.

Everyone who joins us for retail management training has this in come … the love of reading, appreciation for ideas, and a desire for meaningful work. Ninety-nine percent do not have a bookselling background. Most people who join the book business don’t have retail background either and some have limited business experience. It begins with the passion and can develop from there.

Entrepreneurship requires that we honor the deep longing, learn from those who are successful, develop our own vision, and deliver it all with passion and connection.

When terrible things happen, people seek answers and search for what can bring them comfort. In our country’s recent history, we’ve felt the shock of 9/11, the horror of Hurricane Katrina, and now, the discomfort and discontent of many social problems that have surfaced in Ferguson, Missouri. After now a series of killings of black people by police officers, our President and the people of  have acknowledged we have work to do. This work involves our collective attention.

When a crisis strikes, we search for understanding. Some look for comfort. While some people head to a church or a park, people also head to their neighborhood bookstore. While not many bookstore owners imagine the bookstore as a sanctuary when they decide to get into the business, when a crisis hits, it becomes clear that a bookstore is also a special kind of healing place.

It may be the peaceful quiet of browsing books, a symbol of knowledge and wisdom, that is the draw. Someone can leave the store with an escape novel, but the trip into the store helped in some way.

Others want interaction and dialogue. Left Bank Books, a St. Louis indie bookstore, not only stayed open after the Ferguson jury announced its verdict, but has scheduled a series of book discussions for a new group entitled #FergusonReads. Their website reads:

“The events in Ferguson have been upsetting for nearly everyone in our community. This reading group is an attempt to add some civility and context to the mix by exploring race, not only in St. Louis, but America as a whole.”

Bookstores can help the healing and spark conversation that improves our world

Bookstores can help the healing and spark conversation that improves our world

I’ve sent this link to my neighborhood book group. February is Black History Month and we’ve yet to select our books for 2015. I hope members of my book group will share the link with others too, exponentially expanding its reach.

One of the greatest competitive advantages of an indie bookstore is being part of the community. Helping the country face and work through its issues …. to help it reach its potential … is how we make a difference in our communities and beyond.