Oldest Children’s Bookstores
“children’s” out of the store name and hired an events manager
to program more events, for all ages. With the move, Edmonds
and Curcio broadened the inventory to include more YA books,
even adding a teen board to help with selection, along with
some adult titles, including cookbooks and travel books.
After close to seven years at the helm, Edmonds and Curcio
continue to tinker. In the third quarter last year, they replaced
WordStock with Lightspeed, a new POS system not typically
used in the book market. And they have other ideas, including
launching a newsletter for middle graders with kids’ reviews.
Looking back to 2010, Edmonds says: “We’ve gone from a
steam locomotive on one set of tracks to a rocket and the whole
universe. The POS system was the last piece of getting the store
into the new world.”
Holly Weinkauf purchased the Red Balloon Bookshop, a
33-year-old bookstore in St. Paul, Minn., founded by Michele
Cromier-Poiré and Carol Erdahl, in August 2011. Two summers ago Weinkauf tried to beef up the store’s YA sales by
moving the YA section to the basement and giving teens a separate space. She also started a teen book club. Last summer, she
updated the main floor to create more display space and lowered
the counter. “It allows us to have many more conversations with
customers,” Weinkauf says. Earlier this year, she began a new
project called Book Gathering, which involves creating a book
list around a particular theme. In March, the store celebrated
Women’s History Month with a Rad Women People gathering,
and in May it hosted its first book swap.
When 33-year-old Magic Tree Books in Oak Park, Ill.,
changed hands in June 2015, new owner Beth Albrecht began
tweaking the store’s inventory. Through her three teenage children, she got interested in webcomics and has begun selling
more graphic novels. “The store has always had an
attitude that embraces all: open and kind,” says
Albrecht, noting that founders Iris Yipp and Rose
Joseph long embraced diversity in all its forms.
That said, Albrecht tries to be “a little more
adventurous” in what she stocks. Her goal is to
appeal to young, hip parents, while continuing to
satisfy grandmothers, who remain the store’s
Paying It Forward
For many children’s booksellers, being part of the
community means helping underserved kids. The
35-year-old Booktenders’ Secret Garden Children’s
Bookstore & Gallery in Doylestown, Pa., does a
large part of its business working with schools and
bringing in authors such as nearby resident Jerry
Spinelli. Founder and owner Ellen Mager gives
back by collecting books for two “adopted”
schools: one for fifth through eighth graders, the
other for third through eighth graders.
Thanks to a customer who prefers to remain
anonymous, Jean Fennacy, owner of Petunia’s Place in Fresno,
Calif., which opened in 1978, has begun giving away envelopes
filled with $20 bills to children ages 16 and under to buy books.
The customer gave her six or seven envelopes before Christmas
and continues to bring in more each time he stops by. Some of
the recipients’ parents have asked Fennacy to keep the envelopes
and give them to others whose needs are greater. With their
help, Fennacy envisions keeping the free book program going
well into summer.
Fruchtman at Children’s Bookstore wanted to do even more
for disadvantaged kids in Baltimore. Early on in her bookselling
career, she raised $1 million to create the Children’s Bookstore
Educational Foundation to provide teachers with large quantities
of books that they needed for their students, such as 350 copies
of Things Fall Apart and 250 copies of Night. The books were then
shipped to the store, and she and her staff boxed up books for the
teachers to pick up.
Now Fruchtman is in the midst of transitioning the foundation to serve the city’s youngest children. She is moving the
foundation’s money into the Baltimore Community Foundation,
where it will be used in the city’s Judy Centers to provide books
for preschool children and their families.
Like Booktenders’ Mager (or Miss Ellen, as she is known to
her young customers), booksellers at stores of a certain age continue to bring in customers because they handsell and because
they continue to change with the times. Despite her many years
in the business, including earning the inaugural NAIBA
Handseller of the Year Award, Mager continues to push for the
best way to reach young readers. Even after all these years, she
says, “ I’m trying to hone in on what I can do to make [the store]
work better.” ■
Author Laurie Halse Anderson at Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa.