Category Archives: Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: Stone Alley Books, Galesburg IL

We’re talking today with Ben Stomberg, founder-owner- manager of Stone Alley Books & Collectables (www.facebook.com/stonealley)  one of  a growing number  of small town independent bookstores created  by people who simply believe their town should have a bookstore you can visit in person.  I’m especially grateful for this one because it’s in the town where I grew up, which always had at least one bookstore that served Galesburg and surrounding smaller towns until a certain chain came in, outcompeted the locals, then failed and closed.  You know, that story.

Stone Alley logoMixed-up Files: Everybody who opens an independent bookstore has a bookstore dream, and that’s what makes each one unique. What was/ is yours?
Ben
: When I moved back to Galesburg in 2007 I thought, “It’ll be OK. There’s a bookstore and a Starbucks. I’ll Be Fine.” Then the bookstore closed and the Starbucks followed. Finding a better coffee shop wasn’t difficult, but living in a town of thirty-some thousand with no bookstore was more than I could handle.

MUF: Stone Alley is the only full bookstore in the area. How does knowing that shape what you do?
Ben:
When we first opened, I wanted Stone Alley to be a universal bookstore with a little bit of something for any kind of reader. But being a small brick and mortar shop in a small town, it’s difficult to have a deep enough selection in every genre. I began to specialize more in fiction and Young Adult and Kids Stone Alley, too many booksbooks. We lean on special orders and a loyal customer base that prefer to order through us instead of on line.

MUF: Congratulations on your move to a bigger store on Main Street this year. What have you added and changed in the process?
Ben:
When we moved to Main Street, Stone Alley merged with the local gaming store, For The Win. So we have added a wide selection of board games and card games such as Magic: The Gathering and YuGiOh. These things compliment our selection of comics that has grown steadily over the past 5 years. We’re a One Stop Geek Shop now.Stone Alley new front?

MUF: How do you help connect readers with books they will enjoy? Ben: I rely heavily on suggestions from my other customers. Nothing has ever interfered with my personal reading time like owning a bookstore has! So, even though I try to follow reviews and sales trends, my best tool is my customers. Being in such a small town, all of my regulars tend to “review” their last purchase when they come back in. That’s what I lean on the most when customers ask about titles or authors that I haven’t read.

MUF: Since we’re middle-grade authors, we have to ask: what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, Stone alley drogdo you find yourself recommencing to readers aged eight to thirteen these days ?Stone Alley Magic Treehousestone alley blume
Ben:
Besides You Will Call Me Drog?
Honestly, the kids around here know exactly what they want before they walk in, or they’ve given their
grandparent/parent/aunt/uncle a specific list of titles lite Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, Magic Treehouse or Junie B Jones.Stone Alley.  SilversteinWhenever someone needs more direction than that, I lean toward the classics. I don’t have children of my own and my only real experience is with what I grew up reading. But, parents love to find the books they loved to share with their kids. It’s hard to go wrong with Judy Blume, Shell Silverstein, Dr Seuss or Charlotte’s Web.Stone Alley new interior

MUF: If a family from out of town visited Stone Alley Books, would there be family-friendly places nearby to get a snack or meal? And if they could stay awhile are their some unique places and activities in Galesburg that they shouldn’t miss?
Ben:
The Landmark Cafe and Creperie and Q’s Cafe are both within a block of the shop. There is also the Discover Depot Children’s Museum and the Galesburg Railroad Museum. We host the Railroad Days festival on the 4th weekend in June and the National Stearman Fly-In every September.

Thanks, Ben , for telling us  about your store.  Best wishes for your continuing success.  Readers, do visit Stone Alley Stone Alley logo #2if you’re in that neck of the woods, especially if you have a geek in tow!

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog,  Carolrodha Books 2011, Usborne UK, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Annie Bloom’s Books, Portland OR

Annie Bloom's extended logo

Portland, Oregon  is a haven for book- and  bookstore lovers, and Annie Bloom’s (www.anniebloomsbooks.com) in the charming Multnomah Village neighborhood is one of the most popular.  Today we’re talking with author/bookseller Rosanne Parry:

Annie B's interiprMixed-Up Files: Who is Annie Bloom?
Rosanne: Originally Annie Bloom’s was owned by two women. The store name is a combination of their first and last names.
Molly Bloom is our beloved store cat. She is an all black rescue cat with the perfect disposition for presiding over a bookshop. She spends much of her day in the in-basket by the register in front of the store receiving attention from customers of all ages with patience and good humor. Annie B. the cat #1She has a few hiding places throughout the store and her food is kept in the basement office, so if she grows tired of the adoration of our customers she has places to escape. She lives in the store full time and is particularly fond of author readings. She often comes to sit among the guests and sometimes steals the show by parading back and forth in front of the author.

MUF: Please describe the atmosphere at Annie Bloom’s. If a ten- or eleven-year old came in for the first time, what would you want his or her experience to be?
Rosanne: Our middle grade section has its own cozy corner in reach of the younger chapter books for kids who are reading up and not far from YA for those who enjoy the occasional foray into older titles. There’s a shelf for new arrivals, and one dedicated to graphic novels of all kinds. My particular favorite is the spinning rack of unabridged classics because MG is the perfect age to discover The Secret Garden, Treasure Island, Sherlock Holmes, annie bloom's sherlockAnne of Green Gables,screenshot_212Annie Bloom's Anne of Gree Tom Sawyer and so many others.annie B's treasure island

MUF: Best-selling adult and children’s author James Patterson has been giving away money recently to support independent bookstores. Congratulations to Annie Blooms for being one of the ones he has chosen! How have you used your windfall?
Rosanne: We’ve completely updated our computer system. It’s been a huge help. Keeping up with the technology is hard for any small business so the Patterson grant was terrific.

MUF: In a small bookshop, there is only room for good books. How do you decide what titles to carry?
Roseanne: The final decisions about book purchases are made by our buyer, but one of the real assets to the store is our staff of more than 20 avid readers. We are a general bookshop carrying fiction, non-fiction, poetry and prose, literary and genre, NS adult’s and children’s titles. No one person could possibly be on top of all those choices so staff members have a balance of favorite areas and help our buyer stay on top of both the great new books and the classics we should always have on hand.
In order to maximize our offerings we usually only carry 1-3 copies of a book. But we order books for customers all the time. If a book is in print we can almost always get it in 2 or 3 days.Annie B's I don't remember the cover

MUF: And how do you help people find books they will love?
Rosanne: Helping a customer find the book is often a group effort, brainstorming a book similar to something the customer already loves, or searching through our data bases for a beloved story when the customer can’t remember the exact title or author’s name. Just yesterday we helped a mom looking for a poetry collection to share with her 12 year old. She had already read most of the good children’s collections and wasn’t quite ready for Mary Oliver or Emily Dickinson. We thought about William Stafford and Billy Collins and Annie Bloom's poisoned applesRobert Frost who many young readers enjoy but wanted a woman poet and after a bit of searching remembered Poisoned Apples by Christine Hepperman, a collection of poems based on the Grimm’s fairy tales and exploring the toxicity of the beauty culture for young women—perfect for sparking lots of important conversations between a mom and daughter and spot on for middle school.
Perhaps best of all we strive to encourage lengthy browsingMolly B the Cat relaxing Annie B's cozy loftwith free coffee, comfy chairs and plenty of unsung gems and local interest books mixed in with the latest best sellers.

MUF: As middle grade authors, we have to ask: what titles, new or old, fiction or non-fiction, do you find yourself recommending most often these days to boys and girls from this age group?
Roseanne
: One of the pleasures of a neighborhood bookshop is the ability to champion local authors. We put a note in our computer system for local authors and mark their spots on the shelf. I love recommending Absolutely Truly Annie Bloom's Absolutely Trulyby Heather Vogel Frederick to kids who are moving up from Encyclopedia Brown. It’s been all joy to see Victoria Jamison’s graphic novel Roller Girl Annie Bloonm's Roller Girltake off, not just locally but nationally. Fans of Raina Telgemeier love it. Other middle grade authors who live in the neighborhood include Graham Salisbury, Susan Fletcher, Laini Taylor, Robin Herrera, Lisa Schroeder, Barry Deutsch, and Roland Smith.
Yesterday someone came in looking for the Little House books and considering reading them aloud to her second grader. I suggested she give Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich a try instead. Annie Bloom's Brchbark HouseHelping people broaden their horizons to excellent books with a lower profile and more diverse titles is also one of the great joys of working in a bookstore.
I also have to give a shout out to the wonderful school librarians who put together the Oregon Battle of the Books list every year. We have a shelf dedicated to books that are on the list, and especially for those of our booksellers who are not widely read in children’s lit, so they can be confident recommending OBOB books all year long. They are some of our best-loved books in the store and many continue to sell long after their OBOB year.

These 8th-graders have dropped in to read to each other from old picture-book favorites

These 8th-graders have dropped in to read to each other from old picture-book favorites

MUF: If families from across town or out of town make the trip to visit Annie Bloom’s, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood for them to get a snack or visit after browsing?
Roseanne:
We are a neighborhood shop so many kids who come in are celebrating after their soccer or baseball game in Gabriel Park, or attending a birthday party at the Craft Factory next door. We get a steady parade of frozen yogurt from Necter across the street and home-made fudge from Hatties Candy Shop two doors down. If you’re in the Village for Thinker Toys, then Annie Bloom’s is the spot to get the perfect book go along with the toy. And many a young patient from Zoom Care stops by for a graphic novel to read on their day off of school.Annie B's gift card

Thank you, Roseanne, for taking us inside your shop.  Readers, when you go to Portland, don’t miss this gem!

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

Indie Spotlight: Square Books Jr., Oxford MS

Independent Book Store Day is coming up this Saturday, May 2, so it’s delightful to be talking with Paul Fyke of Square Books Jr. in Oxford , Mississippi (www.squarebooks.com/junior) and to be reminded of what we love about independent bookstores!
Mixed-Up Files: Paul, how did Square Books Jr. come to be? How does it relate to Square Books “senior”?  

Square books jr.  exteriorPaul: Square Books Jr. was born out of a mixture of desire and necessity. For a long time Square Books had wanted to expand its children’s area. When it became apparent that it would be impossible to do that in the existing space, a plan was set into motion. Once the right location became available it was quietly leased. Then, the windows were covered in paper leaving the locals to wonder what new business to expect. Once the stock was ordered and the space renovated, it was time for the final step. At the release of “Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix,” it was announced Square Books would host a release party at 6am in celebration. What followed was a scavenger hunt around the town square that eventually led people to the mysterious new space with the paper over the windows. It was then that Square Books, Jr. was unveiled. Now, twelve years later, it seems like the secret is out.

MUF: Please describe the atmosphere you have created in your shop.
Paul: At a staff function, our owner once described Square Books, Jr. as “an independent among independents.” This statement has always stuck with me because I think it very much encapsulates what makes Square Books, Jr. different. We try to cultivate an atmosphere that is welcoming, not just in a tidy, commercial way, but in a human way. When children come into our store we want them to feel like this is their store. There are toys scattered between a play table and a play kitchen in the back, with a couch in between for parents to enjoy a well-earned moment of rest. Rarely is there a time where there’s not at least one child imagining some grand fantasy in the play castle in the back or at the very least dancing to the eclectic musical lineup we play over the stores sound system. Square Books Jr.  Interior #3

MUF: How do you choose the books and other items you carry in Square Books Jr.? What is your collection especially strong in?
Paul: Our greatest strengths are probably our Middle Grade collection and our picture book selection. We are fortunate in that we have a very dedicated staff, each with their own specialties. Leita, who has worked here for going on twelve years now, is the curator of our picture books collection. Jill, our buyer and other twelve year veteran, makes sure that Middle Grade is always filled with exciting new series for children to explore. I’ve been here seven years now, and I spend most of my time in the YA section looking for hidden gems and trying to make sure we don’t end up with a shelf of exclusively NY Times bestsellers. Lyn, our general manager and non-book item buyer, makes sure we never lack for exciting educational toys (many of which are provided by Melissa and Doug). All of this comes together to make a store filled with merchandise that we can all be confident in.

MUF: How do you go about helping readers find “their” books and vice-versa?
Paul: The most important part of helping a child find his or her perfect book is taking the time to talk to the child and discover their interests. It’s more than just “Did you like the Hunger Games/Maze Runner/Percy Jackson?” You have to engage the child. If they like sports do they like to play sports or do they just like to watch sports with their family? Do they like to play Minecraft? Do they like Survival or Creative mode if they do play? What kind of TV shows are they watching?

Children's Book Week bookmark by Raúl Cólón

Children’s Book Week bookmark by Raúl Cólón

Finding out what the child does when they are not reading is one of the best ways to help them find a book that is not only engaging, but also something that can help them fall in love with reading.

MUF: How is Square Books Jr. planning to celebrate National Children’s Book Week, May 4-10?
Paul:
Children’s Book Week has always been an exciting time for us. This year we are kicking things off a little bit early with a signing by local authors Kat and Margaret King for their new book The Backyard Campout on Independent Bookstore Day, May 2. Square Books Backyard Campout As the week continues we will have story times aplenty and a special meeting of the SBJ Book Society, our 8-12 year old readers book club. We are going to close the week out with a “Dress as your favorite book character” special story time on Saturday, May 9th.

MUF: Since we’re middle-grade authors, we’re eager to know some titles new and old, fiction and nonfiction, that you find yourself recommending to eight- to twelve-year-olds these days?
Paul:
I love to recommend The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a child that doesn’t love it in some way; whether it’s for the characters, the humor, or the mystery there’s something in there for everyone. Some of my other favorite recommendations include TheSquare Books, Name of this Book is Secret Lost Years of Merlin by TA Barron, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, and  lately The League of Seven by Alan Gratz. My favsquare books league of sevenSquare Books-Lost Years of Merlinorite nonfiction recommendations are Bomb by Steve Sheinken and How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg.Square Books  How they croakedSquare Books Matilda

Square Books Where's Waldo?

He’s everywhere!

MUF: Do you have some special events planned that are geared to middle-graders?
Paul:
Our biggest upcoming event will be the Where’s Waldo event in July. Waldo (or at least a small cardboard cut-out of Waldo) will be hidden in 26 stores around the town square. Kids who find Waldo in at least 20 stores are entered into a drawing for free books and other gifts from around the square. Children of all ages participate in this event, but it is especially fun for middle-graders who are spending their aimless afternoons on the town square. While we don’t have any signings firmly planned at the moment, we will most certainly have a few in the coming months. Information on these can always be found on our Facebook page or on our website, http://www.squarebooks.com/junior.

MUF: If a family makes a day trip to Square Books Jr. from out of town, would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after browsing?
Paul: With restaurants lining every side of the courthouse square where our store is located, it’s almost difficult to get off the square without having a meal. There’s Ajax, which is where everyone will tell you to go if you ask for recommendations (yes it’s that good). There’s also Proud Larry’s, which is a personal favorite of mine. Ajax serves amazing seemingly-homemade southern food, while Proud Larry’s serves a greater variety with everything from pizza and pasta to burgers and sandwiches. If you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth Holli’s Sweet Tooth is the perfect destination. They have a wide assortment of ice cream flavors, incredible milkshakes, and every type of candy you can possibly imagine.square books logo

MUF: And if they can stay a little longer, can you recommend some unique places or activities in Oxford they shouldn’t miss?
Paul:
One activity I encourage everyone to squeeze into their travel schedules is a trip to Rowan Oak, the historic home of William Faulkner. Tours are available Tuesday through Saturday, but the grounds can be visited during any day time hours as long as nothing is disturbed. In addition to that, we have a University Museum with constantly changing exhibits that I personally spent a good deal of time in as a child. Past that, my biggest advice is to ask people on the square if there are any events happening soon. There’s almost always something interesting going on if you’re not afraid ask around.

MUF: Readers, don’t you love to hear a bookseller say that his collection is strongest in middle-grade? This Saturday, Independent Book Store Day,  be sure to visit Square Books Jr. to meet the authors of The Backyard Campout. Or visit your nearest independent book shop and buy a book or two.  Thanks to real-book people like us, indies are not only not going away, they’re thriving!

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel  You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012, HarperCollins UK 2014)