It’s always so exciting and heartening to learn that someone is opening a new children’s bookstore , and in the next few weeks, Davin MCDonald and Jenny Stevenson, owners of Mr. Mopps’ Toys and Books will be doing just that (www.mrmopps.net)
Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: Congratulations on your new bookshop venture, Devin! We should also say thank you, because nothing keeps the magic of books and reading alive for kids like a dedicated children’s bookshop. You’ve carried books in the toy shop before and tried to do readings there, so is this a kind of expansion of a dream?
Devin: It is. Mr. Mopps’ actually opened in 1962 as just a book shop and expanded shortly after to include toys. Over the years, it became quite famous for both. Ultimately, it became a large toy shop with a separate room for books. We took over the shop in October of 2010. The former owners were retiring. They liquidated the inventory and terminated the lease on the book room. It saddened us that we no longer had the book room, but at the time it was a bit of a happy accident. There was no way we could have afforded the lease on both of them.
In carrying on the grand tradition of Mr. Mopps’, we have carried books, and up until now have had a decent selection. While the shop is actually quite large (~3700 sq. feet/344 sq. meters), we have found that we just didn’t have the space we wanted to offer the selection we desired to carry. When a space several doors down from the shop became available, one of our staff, Eric, mentioned he thought it would be awesome if we could open a book shop there. We kind of laughed it off at the time, but over dinner that night, we decided to crunch some numbers and it became apparent it was actually
something we could possibly do. So, yes. It is an expansion of a dream. A recent and sudden dream, but one we are extremely excited about. We are opening the shop on October 19th, and we just can’t wait.We have actually started dreaming of the shop in our sleep. This is a massive deal to us.
MUF: It seems that every children’s book shop has a unique atmosphere, simply because the owners are free to realize their particular vision of what a book shop could be. What is yours for Mr. Mopp’s Books?
Devin: Well, we are firm believers that just because this is a space for children’s books, that doesn’t mean that it has to be decorated with rainbows and primary colors and the like. In fact, the palette we have chosen as far as paint and flooring and light fixtures is a bit mature. As for decor, we are putting plants on top of the shelves and the space you can see in the back there, and will have some neat things on top of them as well, such as a globe and a telescope, lamps, and things like that. I guess what we envision is sort of a cozy study- but for children. The space in the back there will be a reading corner with a big chair and a children’s table. We will have step stools around, and perhaps something along the lines of bean bag chairs or ottomans to sit on and read. We’ll have some toys on hand to play with as well.
The music we listen to at Mr. Mopps’ is a wildly eclectic mix culled from Jenny’s and my collection at home that is family friendly. We get compliments on it all the time. Jazz, blues, soul, funk, rock, R and B, obscure vintage music, Bollywood tunes, Thai disco, Cambodian folk music, cumbia, ranchero, salsa, 70′s Irani music, mellow electronica, Balkan brass… It really is all over the place. We find that it adds to the richness and texture of the shop and leads to interesting conversation. People from all over the world who have dropped in to the shop have run over to the counter to ask how we could possibly know about the song we are listening to. We don’t do kid’s music or holiday music, and our customers tend to really appreciate that.
Another exciting thing is that we have a friend of the shop who who will be curating artwork to hang in the book store. She throws what is arguably the coolest art event in San Francisco annually- it’s called ArtpadSF. If you are ever in the Bay Area when it is happening, you should jump on the opportunity to go. She knows loads of artists and will be helping us find work that is not “kids” art, but is still kid-friendly in terms of appropriateness.
MUF: Are you planning to have author visits or on-going programs like story-hours, classes, or book clubs ? What middle-grade author (s) would you most like to have appear at your shop?
Devin:We are! The shop is quite small (360 sq. feet/33.5 sq. meters), so readings will most likely have to be an RSVP type of deal. But signings and such will be open to the public. We are toying with the idea of book clubs, but this is all happening so quickly we haven’t had time to really think about the actual “nuts and bolts” of how something like that would work.
Truthfully, I’ve been ordering so many titles over the past few weeks that it is all a blur as far as being able to choose any particular authors that we would like to have visit the shop. Of course there are the superstars- like Rowling and Riordan, Gaiman and Palacio, but there are so many lesser-known authors I am coming across in the buying process whose work looks great.
MUF: Who will be working in the shop and recommending books to children and their adults?
Devin: We are interviewing 20 candidates now, and, really, they all seem great. The majority of them have bookselling experience and in some cases, have even been buyers. This is going to be a tough decision. We are hiring a staff of 3, two of which will be working on any given day. Jenny and I will also work in the shop at times, of course.
We are also going to publish a newsletter with reviews by kids who frequent the shop. Several are already on board!
MUF: How will you select books for your shop? Do you have some favorite titles that you will carry and recommend to middle-grade readers?
Right now, I am the buyer for the shop. My technique so far has been to order books I am familiar with, are by authors I love, and we have recieved scores of emails (and even hand-written) lists of suggestions from children who come to Mr. Mopps’. Some of the publisher’s reps have been very helpful in pointing out work that they like. We are very particular in expressing our tastes to them, and they have gotten to know what types of books we like carrying. We are going to the NCIBA show in early October and the ABA show in January. I’m sure we’ll be finding some great stuff there.
MUF: If a family visits your store from out of town, would there be a place nearby for them to get a meal or snack after browsing your shop? And are there family-friendly activities to enjoy nearby.
Devin: Yes! There are a handful of wonderful restaurants near the shop, ranging from delicious pizza to sushi and even organic vegan fare. We are just two blocks away from Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School, where the famous Edible Schoolyard is located (there is also a playground and track there) and very close to Live Oak Park, which has a nice playground and a creek, Codornices Park (where there is a really fun and super long cement slide), and the Berkeley Rose Garden. My favorite of them all, Adventure Playground, is about a 10 minute drive from here (and that’s really just because of cross-town traffic. It’s only maybe 3 miles away). There, children can check out hammers and such, build and paint forts out of scrap and plywood, and ride on a super fun zip line.
MUF: Sounds great! Thanks, Devin, for taking time from your hectic preparations to talk with us. All best wishes and hoorahs for your opening and for the the success of Mr. Mopps’ Books!
MUF:More good news. Spellbound Children’s Bookshop in Asheville NC, interviewed here in April, is also realizing it’s expansion dream soon. They’re moving from downtown Asheville to Reynolds Village in North Asheville, where they’ll have plenty of free parking for customers. They’re painting now and shooting for early October. Check their Facebook page or website (ww.spellbounchildrensbookshop.com) for announcement of the open-house date.
Readers, please use this comment space to wish Devin and Jenny well in their new Berkeley shop and, if you can, visit them after the 19th !
Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2012, Usborne UK 2012).