Every time an Indie bookstore opens, an angel gets its wings. At least I think so, especially a children’s Indie. Today the Mixed-Up Files focuses our spotlight on Little Joe’s Books of Katonah, New York newly opened in October. Intrepid reporter that I am, I asked owner Jen Cook a few tough questions.
What inspired you to run a children’s bookstore?
I own Noka Joe’s, the coffee/candy shop downstairs which is a community meeting spot. I’m the former president of the Katonah Chamber of Commerce and a long-time resident. I sought community feedback for the best use of the retail space above Noka Joe’s. Overwhelmingly, residents wanted a children’s bookstore in town. When Borders went out of business (in nearby Mt. Kisco) it was a tipping point. The opportunity was there.
We had a community wide contest to name it. The winning entry: Little Joe’s Books.
What do you like best about running a bookstore?
It’s a lovely, happy business. Noka Joe’s downstairs is a family place and the bookstore is an extension of that. Northern Westchester is ideal because so many people raise their families here.
How do you compete with giants like Barnes & Noble and Amazon?
Well, we’ve only been open for two weeks [note: back in October], but there are no large bookstores close by. I see the two big competitors for us to be 1) e-Book downloads and 2) Amazon. But, particularly young kids books are not good for electronics. Pop-up books, picture books, board books are something kids want to touch. For Amazon, yes, they could save a little by buying online, but our bookstore allows parents and kids to browse. It helps kids get hooked on reading when they can handle the books, get drawn in by the cover, read the back. Our book guru, Genevieve leBotton, can offer book suggestions. We offer book + experience + community*.
[*Author’s note: Followed by pastry, coffee, and a bagful of candy from downstairs. Win, win!]
How do you decide what goes on your shelves?
Let me introduce you to Genevieve. She was manager of the kids department at Borders for six years.
Genevieve: Since we’re just starting out, we used a wholesaler that recommends a starter inventory. I add to that based on the interactions I’ve had with kids from this area for the last six years. I get a feeling for what they like. This is a very well educated, socially aware community. I know what titles they’re drawn to. Not always things on the best-seller list. Like Sharon Draper’s Out of my Mind or Francisco Stork’s Marcelo in the Real World. I spend a lot of time talking and listening to our customers. We’ve increased inventory by twenty-five percent based on community recommendations so far. We also have a bulletin board where the community can make recommendations or suggestions.
Do you follow reviews in journals or magazines to find books too?
Genevieve: That’s something that’s been really different from working at Borders. There, our inventory was just given to us. Now I do a lot of research, and I’m still learning, looking at ALA and Publisher’s Weekly. I want to find books that are odd and special and give them to readers who will love them.
What do you promote? How do you increase sales?
Jen: We’ve been very active with social media. We have an email list, and we’re on Twitter and Facebook. In the store, we have a display of New Releases, and a display of our Favorite Books.
Do you plan on having kid book clubs, kid book recommendations, or kid lit themed parties? Ways for kids to be involved?
Jen: We’re still brainstorming ideas. Most likely we’ll have a book club for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. We want to hear what the community wants.
What kind of upcoming events do you have planned? [Jen hands me a flyer.]
[Reads flyer eagerly] It reads: An author visit by Barbara Dee (one of my fave MG writers), regular story hours, and a cool program where kids can read to their reading dog, Whoopsie Daisy, a black lab who loves listening to early readers who may need a little practice.
Have you had a lot of local authors stop by?
Jen: I met a lot of authors at the Children’s Book Day at Sunnyside [note: more than 50 authors attended]. Mostly local authors and I told them about the store. Many were enthusiastic about it. We do have author visits on our schedule of events.
Since this is the Mixed-Up Files, we have to know: what’s your favorite middle-grade book?
Jen: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Genevieve: My absolute favorite is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. That book changed my life. House on fire, that’s the book I’d take with me. And I also have a new fave, it just came out, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. It’s SO good.
So, house on fire, what one middle-grade book would you take with you? Tell us in the comments!
Karen B. Schwartz counts herself lucky to have an indie children’s bookstore nearby for stocking up on middle-grade books for her huge to-be-read pile. And for her kids. Of course! It’s all for them. Let’s go with that.