inStore: Hooray for Books
Employees may wonder what it would be like to be in charge but few get the chance (or have what it takes) to take over. Trish Brown and Ellen Klein, former employees of Alexandria, VA independent bookstore A Likely Story, had both been interested in buying the store and their opportunity came when it closed suddenly a few years ago. They decided to become co-owners and opened Hooray for Books in the space occupied by their former workplace, hiring some of their former co-workers as part-time staffers. As they approach the fourth anniversary of their leap into co-owning a bookstore, Brown reflected making the transition from employee to employer.
Background: “I really didn’t want it to close,” says Brown. She had toyed with the idea of buying the store when it was for sale earlier but waited until she could devote more time to it. She added that she never wanted to be the sole owner and partnering with Klein has made sense because both bring different things to the equation (kind of like the dynamic two-woman team originally behind Politics and Prose). She says Klein, a former freelancer, brought a familiarity with legal requirements for running an independent business.
After the sale was complete, Brown had to build the store’s inventory from scratch. “We did not inherit inventory, software or anything,” she says. In the first few months after opening, someone would come in asking for a classic book and she would be dismayed. Now she realizes that you can’t have everything and the store is more than willing to place orders for both children’s and adult titles. Orders often arrive the next day.
What makes the store special: Having “hooray” in the name is fitting because this is a store people are really rooting for. Like Brown, area residents didn’t want to see the store close and were glad that Brown and Klein stepped in.
“One lady came in and burst into tears, she was so happy,” notes Brown. Running a small business, in particular a bookstore, is not easy, so it helps to start out knowing you have an interested customer base.
Events: The store has story hours for young children and author events, sometimes with a solo author or a group of authors.
Every Monday night, the store hosts ARC clubs for three different age groups—(8-10, 10-12, and 12-14) young readers get to come in and choose an Advance Reading Copy of a soon-to-be-published book, which they can take home and then discuss at the next ARC Club meeting.
And once a month, Hooray for Books hosts a YA Book Club for Adults, since the genre is so popular with people who are beyond their teenage years.
Brown works with authors, sometimes accompanying them on school visits and helping sell their books at events in and outside of the store.
Their events are not limited to books, however. They’ve had musical events like concerts of family-friendly band Rocknoceros. And on June 23, 2012 they will celebrate their 4th birthday with a day of activities like face painting.
Technology: Some of the store’s customers will send an e-mail with a link to a book they want, asking the store to order it for pick up or deliver. This is a practice customers initiated but the store is glad to order books and they are exploring the possibility of adding e-commerce to their website.
You can also find Hooray for Books on Facebook and Twitter (@hfbooks). Brown has noticed that customers tend to “like” their Facebook page, while authors are more likely to follow them on Twitter. She handles the store’s official Twitter account, while younger staffers, some of whom are also book bloggers, also publicize the store through their own Twitter accounts.
The store also maintains a blog and invites customers to submit book reviews for the blog.
Branching Out: If you have not been to the store in a while, you will find that Hooray for Books has a layout that is very similar to that of its predecessor. What you may not realize, however, is that they have expanded their inventory beyond children’s books.
Brown says they sell a lot of picture books and that the store is “Ninety-nine percent children’s books with some parenting and local interest titles.” However, they are not opposed to change: they now carry more YA titles.
“Initially, we didn’t carry a lot of YA fiction because teens don’t want to go to a kiddie book store, but in the last six months, we’ve had teens come in for events.
The store has also added more adult titles, step by step. They started with one bookcase and now there are three bookcases of carefully selected titles for adults. This may not seem like a big deal, but in a bookstore every bit of space needs to be utilized well, so the added space for adult books says a lot.
One reason that this children’s bookstore is carrying more titles for grown-ups is that while there is a used bookstore nearby, there are no other commercial bookstores in the immediate area. After seeing adults walk in and walk right out, they decided to offer them a reason to stay.
The store also wants to offer something for adults who come in with children. In fact, Brown says she once overheard a woman telling her son that were in the store to “buy a book for mommy today.”