There are no bookstores in Jupiter Florida. Our local Books a Million shuttered a few months ago. You can head south 20 minutes and find a Barnes & Noble, and that’s about it. The question is whether or not this town of 60,000 needs or would support an independent bookstore. There is a very small college in town. A good number of the residents are seasonal. The median age is quite high. People are quite used to jumping on 95 and heading to Palm Beach Gardens for all their shopping needs.
I do think a bookstore could work, but it would need to be a destination. I have a few zany ideas that I would implement if I were setting up a bookstore from scratch. They come from my own wishes as a reader, a shopper, a writer, a former bookstore employee, and a member of the community. Read on to see what I would do with “Bella’s Bookshop” (because all great bookstores need a furry mascot, and my pup would be a constant fixture around the store. And also: Alliteration.
- Bella’s Bookshop would start with the kids. A vibrant and fun children’s section with bean bags, reading and writing stations, and a commitment to the Battle of the Books and NaNoWriMo Young Writers programs. I would want one employee who stays in touch with local schools and teachers to make sure we have the books they need and assign for class, that parents are aware of our after-school programs, and that kids feel welcome hanging out as long as they like.
- A focus on literacy. I would have a section of books for people who hate reading. These would be gift ideas for readers trying to turn family and friends who don’t read onto books. Know a guy who likes to gamble and refuses to read? Try Bringing Down the House. Know a relative who swears off books but loves their dog? Get them The Art of Racing in the Rain. There’s a book for everyone. There’s a reader in all of us.
- A well-paid staff that reads and recommends. I would rather have fewer employees who all get enough hours and pay to support themselves than a ton of part-time people. (And yeah, I know how difficult it is to run a small business and pay employees well, but it helps when the manager (me) can afford to not take a salary).
- Staff recommendations are the engine that power robust sales. I would have employees write at least one recommendation a month, with shelf talkers placed everywhere that book is shelved.
- Online recommendations. Related to the above, I would have the employees post the same reviews to several online locations (Amazon, Goodreads, B&N), with a standard intro to each review promoting the qualifications of the reader as an employee of Bella’s Bookshop in Jupiter, Florida. So online shoppers in New Jersey learn that our recommendations rock. And to visit us next time they pass through town. (This attitude of giving freely even if it seems to run counter to our bottom line would permeate the bookshop).
- I would want a stellar cafe with the best fresh-ground organic coffee in town (and a drive-through window, where you can get a newspaper, magazine, or order a book while your coffee is being made). We would feature my homemade cheesecake and choc-chip cookies, and my mother’s coconut and 7-layer choc-cake recipes. The cafe would have a handful of tables and an outdoor patio for the awesome and busy Jupiter winter season. The cafe would serve a selection of doggy treats and have water fountains and shade outside for visiting pups. But the real reason for the cafe would be because of my favorite spot in the entire store. Our…
- …Writing Room. Separate from the cafe, this would be like a Starbucks lounge for people who want to sit and use our WiFi or get work done in a quiet space. There would be a selection of writing reference books for people to paw through (thesaurus, guide to agents, grammar guides, etc.), writing prompts and encouragement on our community whiteboard, a running collective word-count everyone can add to, a bulletin board to announce the newly published, and a case for displaying published works that were partly written right there in the room (and for any award announcements from our writers, young or old).
- Weekly writing workshops in the Writing Room. My favorite. We would have some for all ages and all skill levels. Our staff would teach some, but we would also invite in local writers and teachers.
- The writing room would also have a couple of computers. We would have a Mac for writers who don’t own one to be able to self-publish to the iBookstore. We would also sell an affordable in-house guide to writing your best work possible, as well as a guide to publishing, however you choose to go about it.
- Reading groups. We would reach out to our regular readers and help them form regular groups, which could take over our writing room for monthly gatherings. I would want to have a few, so the SFF crowd could have a group, the general fiction crowd, the non-fiction crowd, whomever.
- Two author events a week, Wednesday and weekends. Local authors, big names, groups of writers, our in-house success stories.
- A bay of shelves for self-published works. This would include classics that readers don’t realize were originally self-published. It would also feature our Mavens program. Mavens are our adventurous readers who discover great unknown works. When they recommend a self-published work that we love and feature in the store, they get a $15 gift certificate, and their Maven Bio and personal recommendation is featured as a shelf talker below the book. So you get to know that Donna Maybell discovered this work and what she loves about it. The Maven of the Month is the community reader who brought the best works to our attention. And employees would be expected to give these recommendations a try along with their other reads.
- We would sell e-readers that provide a financial kick-back for books purchased on those devices. We would also work with authors and publishers to bundle e-books with print books in an affordable manner (giving the e-book away where possible).
- We would stock Amazon published books. Why? Because it’s Amazon’s distribution and online retail divisions that hurt physical stores, not their publishing wing. The latter is a miniscule portion of Amazon’s profits. Refusing to stock these books hurts the reader and author without impacting Amazon one bit. The best way to hurt Amazon? Sell their books and pocket that 40% of the list price! I would view Amazon Publishing as a partner, just as I would view any publisher.
- Education about our bookstore and programs. I would want readers and writers to understand our purpose with the bookstore and to know where their money is going. They would understand what our employees make as a salary and how that compares to the industry average. We would post our profits every year, so shoppers feel like they are a part of our success. They would know what our managers make. How much we donate to charity and which charities we support. And fun facts, like how many words have been written in our Writing Room, how many books patrons have published, how many books young readers have read, how many books our book clubs have discussed, and how many writers have shown up for events. All things to celebrate.
- We would shelve the finest books in all genres, from the classic must-reads to the new releases. We would also feature a shelf of books that defy explanation. Quirky books that are in-between.
- NO RETURNS! We would not return unsold books to publishers. I would ask for a 50% – 55% discount from publishers with a guarantee of no return. When books are at the end of their shelf life, they would be moved to the “Rescue” section. Here, a brief sign would explain our commitment to publishers and to the environment and that we do not return books. Please purchase these great reads at a 35% discount. If they don’t sell in a certain period of time, these books would move to our used book section and our remaindering section.
- Used and remaindered books. There are amazing discounters out there that sell hardbacks for cheap. I would rather these books find readers than be recycled into pulp. So our used and bargain section would be a huge component of the bookstore.
- We would take advantage of bulk ordering and feature promotional packages. Many new releases offer custom cardboard stands if you order 12 or more copies. We would do this and put a customer’s name on the back of any stand or poster they call dibs on. These are fun for displaying a young reader’s favorite books or putting posters on bedroom walls of something besides musicians and sports stars. (We often had customers asking for these items at our bookstore).
- We would definitely have an Espresso Book Machine. Yes, I know how much they cost. I would use the machine not only to support our catalog, but to provide a printing service for community businesses, writers, publishers, and teachers. Also for education on print-on-demand and to get kids excited about the publishing industry. Also: gadgets.
- Every other year, we would have a Bella Bookshop cruise out of Fort Lauderdale. Gorge on buffets, read all day, write all night, and hang out with book lovers. Group discounts would make this a bargain, and of course, we wouldn’t have the ship to ourselves. But if we got a few hundred people to sign up, we would make up a nice chunk of the cruise.
- I would apply for grants based on our education and literacy efforts and appeal to community members and elected officials to support our bookstore as they would a library or learning institution. Our commitment to transparency would assist these efforts. If we are profitable enough, we wouldn’t ask for anything. If we become more profitable, we would expand, raise salaries, lower prices, or give more to excellent charities. Whatever we decided, our shoppers and our community would know. Heck, we might take our profits and install a dog run/dog park so Bella can wear out your pup while you shop!
If this sounds like an unreasonable list, you only have to visit amazing shops like The Tattered Cover in Denver or Powell’s in Portland to see all that a bookstore can be. Our challenge will be to scale those shops down in square footage and make the plan work for 60,000 residents rather than 600,000. Is that possible? I think so. In fact, I think a number of people in Palm Beach Gardens would drive up to visit our store. As well as people in Stuart and Hobe Sound driving down.
We wouldn’t sit still, either. One of our side projects would be to render our store in 3D in anticipation of Oculus Rift and other Virtual Reality devices. The idea would be to allow people anywhere in the world to visit our store. And when we do author events, the entire world would be able to attend. When we do writing workshops, those would be broadcast everywhere and saved on our YouTube channel. Our reading groups would have online members and discussions as well.
For those with VR headsets, you could browse our store as it exists and is shelved any week. This would cut down on all the clutter online and let you see our expertly curated selection. If you want a book, rather than ship it to you, we’ll direct you to Amazon with our affiliate code. I would beat up Amazon for an even higher referral percentage in exchange for directing our shoppers their way and for carrying their books. This would save us the work of packing up books, save our shoppers money, and save the environment with less double-shipping of merchandise.
Virtual Reality shoppers would also be able to see a customized version of our store based on their past purchases. I would work with Amazon to help build this engine and license it to other bookshops. VR would combine the thrill of book discovery that shops provide with the ease of purchase and delivery (and pajamas) that online shopping lends. We would even get to the point where you could summon a bookshop employee to enter your VR world to give you recommendations (like on the Kindle Fire) or help you find a title or a gift idea.
That’s my vision for a bookshop that makes sense now and one that could grow into tomorrow and be global both with VR and broadcast events and workshops. Would you put on pants in order to come shop with us?