Tag Archives: independent bookstores

Indie Spotlight: Kids Ink Children’s Books, Indianapolis

Always a delight to learn about a thriving independent children’s bookstore! We’re speaking today with Shirley Mullin, owner of Kids Ink Children’s Books in Indianapolis, Indiana
MUF: Kids Ink has been open for over three decades, riding out even the bookstore blues of ten years ago. What’s your survival secret? Have you made adaptions over the year that helped?
Shirley:
We have made constant adaptations to changes in the book industry, the economy, and our customers. We’ve been constant in basic principles ie Kind, Fair, and Honest. We also have always emphasized customer service focusing as much as possible on the children and young adults asking them if they have read a book that they really like. Or, asking what interests them.

Beyond that, however, we have adapted our business to stay viable. We are constantly look for new markets. Several years ago we started supplying books for several title programs which has been successful. We offer not only the books but our expertise in choosing titles. This often involves taking books to the district for a “show and tell, ” helping them decide what works for the curriculum. We are currently beginning to experiment with pop-up stores in some of our larger retirement communities offering holiday shopping and gift wrapping at the facility.
Maintaining our presence at major educational events has also been important either selling books tailored to the event or providing information about the store.Finally, we have expanded our assistance to schools helping them find and book authors…often linking schools together.   We then supply the books for the school to sell.

MUF: Describe the atmosphere you try to create in your shop. What are some special features of Kids Ink?
Shirley:
We have always had a train table and have sold trains.   The past few years we have sold Brio. The train gives children a focus point and something engaging while their adults shop. It is not unusual for us to be called the Train Store.
We do our best to maintain the store as a bright cheerful place. All the fixtures are white so the books and toys stand out. Because we are about 20 percent books, our displays are interesting with perhaps a raccoon puppet and a book with a raccoon title or a Playmobil Knight package with a book about knights.Our front window is large and attracts attention most recently with banned books and now featuring the up-coming John Green book.
But the most important component of atmosphere is the staff. We try to make sure that we are able to greet everyone courteously and respond to their questions. We greet everyone who walks through the door and try to be aware of when they need suggestions.

MUF: Kids Ink is a small shop, so your books must be curated. How do you decide what books and related items to carry?
Shirley:
Terri orders all the sidelines/toys. She has a good eye for what our customers want. We only sell real quality toys with emphasis on “playability,” safety, and good construction. (I am quite able to order toys that never sell!) I personally order all the front list. I read all of the picture books before ordering and many of the novels and non-fiction. For all of them, I think about who might want this book and/or who should need this book. Sometimes there is a book that is about a subject or event that hasn’t been requested but the book is important and needs to be read.
For non-fiction, I look at who wrote the book. Are they qualified to write about this topic? I favor non-fiction that has good elements like Table of Contents, Index, Bibliography and Suggested Reading.
Most important, I watch for books that are inclusive of gender, race, and sexuality. Diversity is very important to me and all of the staff.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’re curious to know what titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often to readers ages 8-12?
Shirley:
Books by Jeanne Birdsall, the Penderwicks, Kimberly Brubacker Bradley’s The War that Saved My Life, Rita Garcia Williams titles, Pam Munoz Ryan titles, Jason Reynolds, Ghost and Patina.Non-Fiction varies a lot depending on what the child finds interesting. We have a lot of requests for biographies, books about animals, and weather.

MUF: Do you have any activities coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Shirley:
Sarah Cannon, a debut novelist will be signing on 12/2/17 from eleven to one for Oddity. Her book will be of interest for this level.

MUF: If a family is visiting Indianapolis from out of town, would there be family-friendly places near your shop where they could get a snack or meal after shopping? And if they could stay longer, are there some unique family activities or sights they shouldn’t miss?
Shirley: We are next door to The Flying Cupcake, a marvelous place incredibly popular with all our customers. Then next door to that is Father Bryne’s Pizza with unusual grilled thin crust pizza. Across the street is a long established Illinois Street Food Emporium which is known for chicken salad croissants baked daily in house as well as a Grater’s Ice Cream store. In addition, our corner contains shopping for everyone…a jewelry store, a boutique with unusual home items, an art store, clothing store, and a Starbucks.
Even better, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is twenty blocks from the store. It is the largest children’s museum in the world.

MUF: Thanks, Shirley, for sharing news  about your fine shop.  Readers, have you visited Kids Ink yet?

Indie Spotlight: Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston TX

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files:  What an interesting idea:  a bookstore devoted half to kid’s books and half to adult! We are talking today with Valerie Koehler, Owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.

MUF: I assume your shop gets its name from Blue Willow, the award-winning novel by Doris Gates?  Sounds like you’ve had children’s books  in mind from the beginning.
Valerie: I was not aware of the lovely book by Doris Gates when I named the shop.  But just like in her novel, the shop is named after Blue Willow china. When I bought the shop, I wanted to offer books for the entire family. so now it’s half and half.  Our top two selling categories are adult fiction and children’s picture books.

school visit

MUF:You’ve been open twenty years now and you survived the downturn several years ago when many bookstores closed.  What has contributed to your success?  What kind of atmosphere do you try to create for customers at Blue Willow Books?
Valerie: We never saw the downturn as we plowed ahead with new ideas, new partnerships, and lots of events.  I feel our success is due to our open minds to new opportunities.  We want everyone to feel welcome and we want to continue to spread our love of books through the city.  We venture far beyond our walls with school visits and our three yearly festivals.

MUF:Tell us more about your monthly book club, “Another Shade of Blue” for middle-grade girls.  What have been some of their favorite books, and what will they be reading in June?  
Valerie:It’s been a slow start to this club and we are retooling it as I write this.  It’s so hard to get critical mass when the kids are overbooked.  They loved The Green Glass House By Kate Milford. In June, they are reading Beyond The Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk.

MUF: How do you choose which books to carry in your shop?
Valerie: I read advance copies, I look at reviews, I look at trends and past sales.  It’s an art and a science (and a crap shoot!).

MUF: How do you help kids find their next best book? As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often these days to readers between eight and twelve?
Valerie We tend to recommend stand-alone novels as the kids already know the series.  All of us like different books!  This past year, we all loved PAX by Sara Pennypacker.  But each kid deserves to be different so we help them one at a time.

Tweens Read Festival

Gene Luen Yang & Fan at Tweens Read Festival

MUF: Do you have any events coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Valerie: We are retooling the bookclub so stay tuned.  Also, put October 21st on the calendar for our 8th annual Tweens Read Festival.  The authors will be announced very soon. Last year we hosted over 3000 kids.
MUF: If a family from out of town visited your shop, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or meal after shopping?  And if they could stay longer, are there some unique sites and activities in the area they shouldn’t miss?
Valerie:
We have a great patisserie in our center which is kid friendly.  Just down the street is Hungry’s which has food for the whole family.  For longer visits I like to recommend visiting www.houstonfamilymagazine.com for great Houston ideas.

Thanks, Valerie, for talking with us about Blue Willow Books, and congratulations on your continuing success!  Readers, have any of you had the pleasure of visiting this shop?  Putting it on your list?

 

Indie Spotlight: The Voracious Reader, Larchmont NY

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: We’re talking today with Francine Lucidon of The Voracious Reader (www.thevoraciousreader.com).  Don’t you love the subtitle: “for young people with an appetite for books”?
MUF: You opened your shop ten years ago in 2007, generally considered a precarious time for bookstores, yet you’ve thrived.  Guess you knew something the doom-predictors didn’t!  How do you account for your success? 
Francine: While it may not have been the “right time” for a new indie, it was absolutely the perfect time for me and my family to embark on this adventure.  I can be a little headstrong that way. As for our success (which in the world of bookstores often means simply scraping together the rent and salaries each month) again, I credit that hard headed determination. Plus a wonderful supportive staff and community!

Franklin, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Extraordinaire

MUF: For those who haven’t visited (yet), please describe the atmosphere of your store.  When a middle-grade girl or boy comes to your store, what would you like him or her to experience?  How to you connect them with the next best book?
Francine: The store is super friendly – on Fridays you can meet our dog. Navigating the store is fun, with many themed displays, lots of great face-outs and of course, our treats and tea shop attached.

MUF: How do you decide what titles to carry in your store?
Francine: I do a lot of reading myself but also rely on feedback from our Uncommon Corps group. I look for both authors that consistently do well here as well as exciting debut authors. Often I find out about debut authors from regional conferences. I also make sure to read reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal.

MUF: Tell us more about your book club for ages 8-11, Uncommon Corps of Ravenous Readers (love that title—so true for this age group) and what they do.  
Francine: this is an ARCS club, a group of book and pizza loving 8 to 11 year olds. Each person reads and reviews/discusses a unique book not yet published (cool factor J). On the first Friday evening of the month middle graders gather at our meetup to talk books and eat pizza , and at the end of the evening everyone gets another free Advance Review Copy to talk about at our next meeting.

MUF: When the members turn 12, they can move on to the YA Alliance, right?
Francine: Yes, that’s our teen club which is run similarly with YA books.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often to middle-graders these days.
Francine: Recommendations depend so much on the reader. I like to know what they’ve read recently, what they tend to enjoy most, then, by showing them maybe 3 titles or so, I feel confident to choose the recommendation that makes their eyes light up. To be honest I usually find 2 or 3 titles a season that I absolutely love and foist them on everyone! A couple of favorites not too long ago have been Kathy Appelt’s Maybe a Fox and The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, both soon to release in paperback. Middle grade readers often prefer books that appeal to their strong emotions.  Then there are books that are just plain, silly fun like The Terrible Two from Mac Barnett and Jory John.

 

MUF: Any author visits or events coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Francine: We’ll be launching book 2 of the Pixie Piper duology by Annabelle Fisher , Pixie Piper and the Matter of the Batter, probably at the end of May. People who’d like to attend our events can sign up for our newsletter (www.thevoraciousreader.com) or follow us on our Facebook Page.

MUF: If a family came to Larchmont to visit your shop, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or a meal afterward?  Any unique sights or activities nearby that they shouldn’t miss?
Francine:
They could certainly get snacks in our attached teashop, A Proper Cup, including all natural ice cream from Jane’s of the Hudson Valley. We’ve got lemonade, a huge variety of loose leaf teas and Stumptown cold brew coffee. We’ve also got cupcakes, cake pops. Scones and more. There’s a great Chinese restaurant right next door, wonderful restuarants of all kinds throughout town and a beautiful beachfront park called Manor Park. The town is strollable and filled with families which makes an afternoon here a great family destination.

MUF: How will The Voracious Reader be celebrating National    Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday, April 30th?
Francine:
This year over 400 bookstores nationwide (including OURS!) are joining up to let you know that, with your support,your independent bookstore (that’s US!) can serve as an important hub of ideas, fun and community building! Publishers and authors have created special items to be sold ONLY by participating stores and ONLY on our day of celebration! Stop in for special items from such luminaries as Kate DiCamillo, Neil Gaiman, Tad Hills and more! We’ll also have giveaways, story times, crafts for the kids and some special treats available in our tea shop!

MUF: Thanks, Francine for taking time to help us  get to know your shop.  How many of our voracious readers reading this column have visited Francine’s shop, or would like to?  Comments welcome.

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