Maribel Garcia: You two have a very special story. Can you tell us how two newly-weds, working multiple jobs decided to get into the bookselling business and acquired their own store?
Christina and Alex: The idea for the bookstore grew out of frustration regarding where we were with our jobs. Christina was an adjunct writing professor in the Greater Philadelphia area, and Alex was working as a freelance graphic designer and Twitch affiliate. We felt under appreciated, underpaid, and exhausted. We also were fighting to get time together! One night Alexander suggested we open a bookstore in jest, and the more we thought about it, the more we realized it could be a great opportunity to do something together and give our neighborhood a type of retail that it has been missing. Christina always dreamed of owning and working in a bookstore, and we thought it was the perfect way to blend our passions and talents.
MG: Independent bookstores are much more than buildings. Maybe I am just being a book nerd, but independent book shops are like an oasis in the desert, a growing space for community, and a critical line of support for authors and readers alike. Tell us more about your store, including its history and location. Also, what types of books does your store stock and specialize in?
Christina and Alex: We whole-heartedly agree, and wanted our small bookstore space to be intimate and cozy. Essentially, we wanted it to be a sanctuary for the community to come visit. We’re located at 1726 East Passyunk Avenue, in the neighborhood of East Passyunk, South Philadelphia. The avenue has exploded in the past decade with restaurants, gyms and yoga studios, and retail. Alex has lived in this neighborhood for thirteen years, and therefore, has experienced a lot of the change firsthand.
We love this area and thought it was missing an important type of retail: a bookstore. We envisioned a space that reflected the community and offered a variety of events, with a focus on local writers and artisans. That being said, we have a large small press/Philadelphia author section, as well as a section featuring books on Philadelphia. Some other popular sections of the shop include horror, Sci-Fi, new age, and children’s. We primarily carry new books, with a small used book section.
MG: What characteristics do you think a person needs to be a successful independent bookstore owner? What has been the key to your success?
Christina and Alex: To be successful in any independent business, you need to be flexible and able to adapt. From day one, we’ve said we want the bookstore to reflect the community. That means if we need to expand, add, or dissolve a certain genre or section in the shop, we’ll do that. That means trying different hours of operation or various types of events to see what fits best. In a small business, if you don’t adapt, you die.
We’re still such a new business–only about nine months old–but we think that we’ve done a good job at listening and responding to our community while still keeping our vision for the bookstore intact. That’s another thing, too, you have to have a brand and build on it. Our brand is community and a focus on local authors and artisans.
MG: What do you most enjoy about being a bookseller? What do you least enjoy about being a bookseller?
Christina and Alex: Christina – I love connecting with a customer about a particular book. Talking about the books I love or find interesting is definitely the best part of being a bookseller. What I enjoy least is when someone comes in and says something like, “Oh, I could get this on Amazon cheaper.” I think a lot of people don’t realize that every sale at a small business helps to literally keep the doors open.
Alex – Seeing someone come back to the shop, raving about our suggestions and hearing the elation in their voice. It gives me a great wholesome feeling. These days with all the events, I suppose the long hours can get to me. Stack enough 12 hour days and I start to get a little loopy.
MG: What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to your business?
Christina and Alex: We’re open Tuesday-Sunday, and we switch off weekdays. We always work Saturdays and Sundays together, as well as events. A typical workday is coming in about 30 minutes before opening time to vacuum, set up displays, check our email, etc. Depending on the day, our weekly order of books comes in and has to be put into our POS system before going onto the shelves. For larger orders, we do this together, as it can be a several hour process. What happens during the rest of the day depends on the customers. Usually, everyday consists of making book suggestions for customers, taking special order book requests, scheduling and planning events, tidying up the displays and shelves, and if we’re lucky, we get to spend some time reading or working on our own writing projects.
Most days of the week we’re open eight hours. We also host a ton of events (since December 1st we’ve hosted nearly 150 public and private events), and these can either have us coming in earlier (toddler story time), or staying much later (readings with local authors can extend our hours to as late as 10 or 11pm).
MG: Christina and Alex, thank you so much!