Category Archives: Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: Hooray! Indie Bookshops are Thriving

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For the new year, here’s a retrospective of bookstores we spotlighted in 2015, recalling a special feature or two of each and a couple of their favorite books for middle-graders.
The shops we featured are all over the country (well, okay, two are in Oregon). Some are new and already doing well, and one claims to be the country’s oldest continuously operating shop. Most are in small or mid-size towns or neighborhoods, and many were founded by first-time booksellers simply determined that their community would have a bookstore.   They thrive by knowing their readers, that stubborn and growing tribe who like to hold physical books in their hands and talk about them with real people who know and love books.
The great thing about independent bookstores is that they’re free to create whatever atmosphere they imagine and to choose what books to buy and promote. If you have discovered a shop you love, support them by going there often to hang out, buy and enjoy. Since each bookshop is a unique experience though, you also might want to “collect” those experiences, seeking out shops in your region and wherever you travel, and taking a middle-grader or two along.
How about one of these?

screenshot_51–Bookends, Kailua, Hawaii (through the tunnel from Honolulu)
Interview  with owner /manager Pat Banning in January 2015, who says the secret lies in being “just big enough.”Heap Magyk
Features: general collection of new and used, but strong in children’s. Lots of fantasy and screenshot_49hard to find older books like Raggedy Ann and some early Nancy Drew .
Pat recommends: Magyk by Angie Sage and The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley

writers block logo sign #5–Writer’s Block, Las Vegas (www.writersblock.org)
Interview with  Drew Cohen in February 2015, who says of the store’s writer’s workshops: “middle-graders are often the most fun to work with.”screenshot_52WB Battle Bunny
Features: a new store, with a woodshop and fascinating artificial bird sanctuary and adoption program.
Drew recommends: Battle Bunny by Jon Scieska and Mac Barnett, and Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine.

Octavia logoOctavia Books, New Orleans (www.octaviabooks.com)
Interview with co-owner Judith Lafitte in March, 2015bookstore waterfall
Features: It’s not every bookstore that has an atrium with a waterfall or served as a “port in the storm” after Hurricane Katrina.Octavia Ms. RapscottOctavia Imaginary
Judith recommends: Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elsie Primavera and The Imaginary by A.F. Harold.

square books logoSquare Books, Junior, Oxford MS (www.squarebooks.com/junior)
Interview with Paul Fyke in April 2015
Features: Called ‘an independent among independents,” it strives to be welcoming with couches and play spaces rather than having a commercial look.Square Books How they croakedSquare Books, Name of this Book is Secret
Paul recommends: The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch and How They Croaked: the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg

Annie B's gift cardAnnie Bloom’s, Portland Oregon (www.anniebloomsbooks.com)
Interview with  children’s author and bookseller Rosanne Parry in May, 2015
Features: Part of the charming Multnomah Village neighborhood. Has a spinning rack of unabridged classics. The store cat’s name is. . .Annie Bloom.Annie Bloom's poisoned applesAnnie Bloom's Brchbark House
Rosanne recommends: Birchbark House, Louise Erdrich and Poisoned Apples by Christine Hepperman
Stone Alley logoStone Alley Books & Collectables, Galesburg IL
Interview with  Ben Stomberg, founder/owner/manager in June 2015 .
Features: Ben went into the bookstore business when the town’s only bookstore closed. Strong in fiction, YA, and children’s books Stone Alley. Silversteinand has a growing stone alley blumeselection of comics. Recently merged with the local gaming store to their mutual benefit.
Ben recommends: ” you can’t go wrong with classics” like Where the Sidewalk Ends or anything by Judy Blume.

Crious Iguana logoCurious Iguana, Frederick Maryland (www.curiousiguana.com)
Interview with Marlene England, co-founder and co-owner in July 2015
Features: Just two-and-a-half years old and thriving. Diverse and globally focused books. Curious Iguana WarA screenshot_53percentage of monthly sales goes to global nonprofits.
Marlene recommends: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker and The Crossover, Kwame Alexander

imagesBeach Books, Seaside Oregon
Rosanne Parry’s interview with owner screenshot_55Karen Emerling in November, 2015
Features: Monthly Lunch in the Loft series with regional authors. Carries many local authors and books related to the coast.

screenshot_05Once Upon a Time, Montrose CA
Interview with Maureen Palacios in December 2015
Features: The oldest continuous children’s bookshop in the country and never had a better year, Noted for their lively window displays. screenshot_28Décor and screenshot_30music have the more sophisticated child in mind.
Maureen recommends: Crenshaw by Catherine Applegate and Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff.

Readers, have you visited any of these shops?  Do you have another favorite you think MUF should spotlight?

Sue Cowing lives in Honolulu and is the author of puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)

Indie Spotlight: Oblong Books & Music, Rhinebeck + Millerton, NY

Here at MUF, we love celebrating great independent bookstores (read our spotlights on Once Upon a Time, Fountainhead Bookstore and more). Continuing the tradition, we turn today to Oblong Books & Music in Upstate New York. Suzanna Hermans, Oblong’s co-owner and manager of the Rhinebeck store, talks to Andrea Pyros about the state of the publishing industry, her favorite new middle grade books and how she sees Oblong’s role in the community.

Mixed-Up Files: Can you tell us the history of Oblong and what led you to launch a second store?
Suzanna Hermans: Our store first opened in Millerton, NY in 1975 in a very tiny storefront. Over the years we expanded into the space we now occupy, in two buildings with three floors of books. In 2001 we were approached by a landlord doing some property development in Rhinebeck, and we were able to design our store from scratch; everything from the carpet to the windows. We opened that second store in September 2001, and expanded it in 2011.

Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, NY

Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, NY

MUF: Can you talk about Oblong’s goals? Introduce people to new books and music? Make a gathering space for book lovers in the community? Support authors?
SH: All of the above! We think of our store as a place where people can discover new ideas and gather to discuss them and meet like-minded folks. All are welcome.

MUF: Do your two stores have different personalities? Do you order different titles for them, or generally you’re carrying the same books and music at both locations?
SH: Though the stores’ stock is almost identical, they have very different personalities. Millerton is sprawling over three floors, with lots of nooks and crannies and crooked wood floors and built-in bookcases. Rhinebeck is all on one level, carpeted, and with matching fixtures. We like to think we have the best of both worlds: a quirky old bookstore and a shiny new one.

Oblong author event with Andrew Keenan-Bolger & Kate Wetherhead of Jack & Louisa

Oblong author event with Andrew Keenan-Bolger & Kate Wetherhead of Jack & Louisa

MUF: You do author events often at Oblong. How do you decide what events to have? Are they an important part of what makes Oblong Oblong?
SH: In 2015 we had over 120 author events, so they are a big part of what we do. We have such a wonderful rich wealth of local authors, and also bring in nationally touring authors, as well as many authors from New York City since we are a reasonably short train ride away. When choosing which events to book, we look mostly at the author’s connections to our local area, as well as the subject matter. Is it something our customers are interested in and a genre that sells well for us?

MUF: How do you feel about the state of the publishing industry and the state of independent booksellers? Or do you feel hopeful about where we’re at and where we’re headed?
SH: This is a very exciting time to be an independent bookseller. We survived Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and ebooks and in recent years sales have been extremely strong. I think there will be a renaissance of more small stores opening as the economy rebounds and more people realize what a bookstore can bring to a community.

George by Alex Gino

George by Alex Gino

MUF: Since we’re a middle grade blog, we’d love to hear what you loved recently for middle grade readers.
SH: Middle-grade was one of our strongest growth categories in 2015! We adore middle grade books. I recently loved The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin and Alex Gino’s George.
The Truth About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Truth About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Andrea Pyros is the author of My Year of Epic Rock, a middle grade novel about friends, crushes, food allergies, and a rock band named The EpiPens.

Indie Spotlight: Once Upon A Time Bookstore, Montrose CA

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How  heartening to discover an independent bookstore that has been in existence nearly fifty years and has not only survived the recession, but is thriving!  It’s the award-winning  Once Upon a Time in Montrose CA (www.shopconceuponatime.com). We’re talking today with Maureen Palacios, one of a growing number of bookstore owners who got into the business not because they had experience in the field, but because they thought their town needed to have a bookstore!  Once Upon a Time  has quite an ownership story.
MUF: Is Once Upon A Time truly the oldest children’s bookstore? Maureen: Well, in 2008 Publisher’s Weekly wrote an article about old children’s bookstores and their research indicated we were the oldest, having started in 1966 and still operating. Of course, there have been stores started before 1966 but alas, they have gone out of business.screenshot_05

MUF:What inspired you to buy it from its founder and keep it going?Maureen: Our family had been customers of Once Upon a Time for many years when early in 2003, youngest daughter Amelia, age 8), was picking out books to read at the store. She turned to me and said, “Mama, we have all the books.” I noticed things were very bare on the shelves and inquired about the lack of inventory. A staffer reluctantly said the store was for sale and would probably close if no buyer came through. This infuriated my children, especially my older daughter Jessica, age 9, who took matters into her own hands. A week or so after our last trip to Once Upon a Time, I was surprised to a call from a newspaper reporter asking to speak with Jessica. He had received a fax from one Jessica Palacios who, apparently, wrote a Letter to the Editor of our paper in pencil asking someone to help the nice lady sell her store and lamenting where would she buy her 5th Harry Potter book if Once Upon a Time was not there? This was prepared (in pencil) and faxed off – all without my knowledge! The newspaper not only printed her letter, but also an article about the shop and tough times.
By then, the founder was basically asking anyone who walked into the store if they would like to buy a children’s independent bookstore. We walked in, and she asked me. I said –“I don’t know anything about books – I fire people” (My Human Relations background). She said, “But I’ll train you!”

Tha Palacios family during inventory

Tha Palacios family during inventory

My husband and I agreed we could not let the shop go out of our community, so we submitted a bid to the founder. After a few days, we were informed we had the store! We had no knowledge or experience in bookselling, retail or buying.   I had to quit my successful Human Resources management career of 20 years to learn the trade from the founder. Blessedly, the community responded enthusiastically, my children ages 8 and 9 read ALL the books available ,wrote reviews, and hand sold books to customers. The store has gone on, wea moved down the block after a nasty landlord tripled our rent, forged ahead with ebooks, and weathered the recession of 2008. This will be our best sales year in 49 years. We have significantly expanded our outreach by committing to the large Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and partnering with 4 publishers and manning 3 booths – including the main stage Kids Stage booth – and hosting/selling 40 authors over a 2 day festival.
This year, after 49 years, we won what many in kids’ bookselling consider the pinnacle of success, the 2015 Pannell Award Children’s Specialty Bookstore award, and were presented the award at BEA in New York by the Woman’s National Book Association.

MUF: Describe the atmosphere you have created in your shop.  What do you want your customers, especially young readers, to experience when they visit?screenshot_14
Maureen:
It starts with our front window displays. We have won awards with our creations to draw people into our store and to whet their appetite on what’s inside. Kids love our windows.
Even at 1200 sq. feet we pack great product in. We like to appeal to a more sophisticated child and have blue-hued silhouette murals depicting the sections of our bookstore on the walls and not primary colors. We play classical music as I do not generally enjoy most children’s music (too sappy, too trite) being a former paid musician myself. I don’t think it’s necessary to dumb down our store for kids, as they are always surprising & delighting us. screenshot_13A red barn (which houses the few hardcover adult books we have) has been greeting customers by the door for generations, beckoning the younger set to explore inside the barn and play friends and neighbors with open windows.

MUF: Your collection has been described as “curated.” How do you choose the books to carry in your store?
Maureen: Great design, artfully, whimsically or imaginatively drawn on covers. For most picture books, the cover art MUST convey a sense of style as no one will bother even looking at the text if they don’t care to pick it up. We do not carry self-published titles – oh, maybe only one – because the books must sell their space, and the self-pubbed titles cover art can’t hold a candle to the vast majority of our inventory. Middle grade and YA books also must have appealing covers and the book should have received good strong reviews and/or one of my staff has read the book.   We do not take everything from a publisher – which is much more difficult than it sounds. Being discerning and knowing at least 3 customers for a particular title will help ensure we stock the book.

MUF: Since we are middle-grade authors, we have to ask: what titles new or old, fiction or nonfiction do you find yourself recommending to readers aged eight to twelve these days?
Maureen: Newer releases: Anything by Stuart Gibb, screenshot_31Kate DiCamillo, Cynthia Kadohata, Pam Munoz Ryan, Katherine Applegate,screenshot_28 Brandon Mull, Lisa McMann, Margaret Haddix, Gary Schmidt, Tom Angleberger, Raina Telgemeir, Kazu Kibuishi.  Misty of Chincoteague is still recommended, as is The Phantom Tollbooth. Cynthia Kadohata’s stories are so thoughtful and beautifully written, as well as Thanhha Lai’s. Gary Schmidt’s writing is always welcome and any book by Kate DiCamillo. Tracy Holczer is our local favorite with her “Secret Hum of a Daisy.” screenshot_32And we can’t wait to sell Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell and Blackthorn Key by newbie Kevin Sands.

Nonfiction is usually the Who is ..series, or the fantastic picture book biographies – my personal favorite: GINGERBREAD FOR LIBERTY by Mara Rockliff screenshot_30and delightfully illustrated by Vincent X Kirsch. Of course, we LOVE Jon Scieszka’s science series as well as Ken Jennings books.

MUF: Many of the most successful independent bookstores maintain close connections to their communities, is this also true of Once Upon a Time?
Maureen:
Being a customer first, I understood that just having longer hours in the day and opening seven days a week was important to our community. We host AYSO teams, donate books, ARCs and gift cards to almost every school in the Crescenta Valley area and beyond, and hire high school students for their first job and give them scholarships to go to college. We place hundreds of authors in  schools as well as partner with our local and main library for events and programming. We donate and provide speakers to PTAs, new parent groups, non-profit organizations and hospitals.
I have recently been  honored by the Children’s Literacy Council of Southern California with the Dorothy C McKenzie Award. This award, named for the organization’s founder, is given periodically in recognition of an individual’s distinguished service to the field of children’s literatur.

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Katherine Applegate & Fans

MUF: Have well-known middle grade authors appeared at your store? Do you have events or programs coming up that would be of interest to middle-graders?
Maureen: We have had the privilege of hosting many well-known authors such as Katherine Applegate, Jon Scieszka, Pseudonymous Bosch, Lisa McMann, Richard Peck, Margaret Haddix, Brandon Mull, Cornelia Funke, Mac Barnett, Raina Telgemier, and many more. We also love to discover & present to our community a new talent, who writes exciting and engaging books for middle grade.
screenshot_38We are thrilled to be hosting on Jan. 3rd   KRISTEN KITTSCHER for her book launch party of her Rose Parade-themed middle grade mystery TIARA ON THE TERRACE.  At the end of January on the 30th, we will celebrate COMICS SQUAD DAY!  with Jenni Holm and Cecil Castelucci.

MUF: If a family came from out of town to visit your shop. Would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after shopping? Are there other unique sights or activities nearby that they shouldn’t miss?
Maureen:
Anyone coming to our shop is in for a treat, as we are a part of Montrose Shopping Park, a 3-block long outside, tree-shaded shopping & dining area that has been dubbed “Old Town Montrose” for its quaint, mid-western architecture. Dozens of movies, TV series and commercials are shot here in the park. We have had NCIS – Los Angeles, NCIS, Sons of Anarchy, House, a film directed by Clint Eastwood, most of Will Ferrell movies and many more shoot here. Most of the stores are independently owned and no big box stores at all. Right next to us, there is a fabulous BBQ joint – Zeke’s – and the next 2 storefronts are terrific restaurants. There’s Italian, Armenian, Mexican, Japanese, Sushi and more restaurants. We are located about 1 mile from a beautiful botanical garden destination – DESCANSO GARDENS – that offers families a respite from the hustle and bustle of LA with themed gardens, world-famous Camellia forest and acres of gorgeous plants. Many times I give a visiting author a day pass to the Gardens between school visits and an evening event so they can rest.

Thanks, Maureen for introducing us to your shop and neighborhood.  It all sounds so inviting!  Readers, have you visited Once Upon a Tome or do you think you would like to?  Please comment here.

Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)