Opening A Bookshop

It's been a little over a month since my store (the one whose website you are on right now, might I add) opened it's doors and it has been a whirlwind to say the least. In some ways it has been exactly as I expected. In other ways I've encountered unbelievable frustrations and disheartening realities. No better place to start then the beginning, I suppose. 

I've always wanted a sanctuary. Since I was a child I would watch various tv shows and movies and it seemed the characters always had a regular place to be at home when they weren't at home. The coffee shop in Friends, the diner in Seinfeld, the bar in True Blood, the bar in How I Met Your Mother, the bar in Cheers. I've been a reader since I could read and I always imagined having a place that as an adult I could come to and relax, be myself with a select few close friends, enjoy a hot cup of tea on a cold day. In my head this place was almost always a book store or a coffee shop (one that also served tea as I personally despise coffee, I know, I'm crazy right?). This place in my head never manifested. The book stores near me were crowded bleak stores full of books but lacking character and tea and really any comfortable place to relax. Either that or they were Barnes & Nobles. The coffee shops tended to be small or crowded or both. My sanctuary never manifested. 

As time went on, I grew up. I got married in 2011. By the end of 2012, I became a mother. That year I also became a stay-at-home mom, mainly because it was actually cheaper then putting our infant in daycare and getting a (low-paying) job. By 2013 most of my friends had moved on with their lives (both of our faults, they were busy with school and work, I was busy with a bouncing little girl who took up about 120% of my time). We would talk occasionally, see each other even more rarely and soon enough birthdays were forgotten and Christmas consisted of a text. Getting married and having children young was one of the best things I have ever done. I love my family and our home and what we've made it together but there always seemed to be something missing. The lack of friendship, the monotony of everyday (breakfast, playtime/laundry, lunch, naptime/dishes, movietime/more laundry) and the lack of money for our growing family convinced me something needed to change. I searched for a job that at the very least would have paid for daycare. The pickings were slim. I could work some jobs at night and get to spend the day with my kid but never get to tuck her in at night again. I could work during the day and get paid peanuts (peanuts not quite being enough to pay for daycare) or I could go back to school to hopefully one day earn enough money to help my family in the way we needed. The latter option being the most expensive but also the most practical option in the long run. I decided I would go back to school and get some business or finance or accounting degree. It would be the most boring year and a half of my life but in the end I would be educated enough to at least qualify for a higher starting salary. 

I started looking at classes at ODU (my former school...before I dropped out) and TCC. I would need to take about 3 semesters of classes to complete my degree. That meant that even with night and weekend classes I would still need to find daycare for my child 3 or 4 days a week. It would be more affordable then full-time daycare but it would still be out of our reach if we wanted to remain above water. Getting frustrated with my lack of options and money, I bitched to my mom about how hard it was to get anywhere with these limitations. My mom, who was no stranger to these problems, completely understood. She was a young mom too and while she did have a college degree and was actually able to bring me to work when I was a baby, it was still challenging for her. My mom offered to help us out and to pay for my college classes. I totaled up what it would cost of all 3 semesters and realized that was quite a lot of money. When I told my mom how much it would be, I said something along the lines of "I wish I could take this money and open a store, maybe a book store." 

This suggestion wasn't completely out of thin air. I had always talked about wanting a store. I had fantasized about moving to the country (where living expenses were dirt cheap) and opening up my little mom and pop bookstore. I even discussed opening up a bookstore/cafe with my sister the year prior because we both felt stuck and needed a change. She ultimately decided she needed the secure paycheck more then she needed her freedom. I held on to the idea because to me a bookstore represented that sanctuary I had been searching for my entire life. 

My mother has always been supportive but I never expected her to take this suggestion (was it even a suggestion or was it just a fleeting fantasy spoken aloud) and run with it. She encouraged me and by May of 2016 I had a business license, a signed lease, and a bank account with the money earmarked for college courses sitting in it. At first I was afraid to spend any money. It was so precious and was the only thing standing between my dreams and utter failure. I didn't know where to begin but slowly, I began to get my head above water. First I started collecting, cataloging and pricing books. I would scour the internet and classified ads for anything that might be useful. I traveled two hours to a library sale outside of Richmond. I went to about 50 yard sales buying every book I saw. I collected books from my friends and family. I went through my own collection of books and donated all but a handful to my store. I ended up with an empty white box of a store stacked with over a thousand books. Now that I had the books, I had to get the store in order. 

The stores construction and remodel took the majority of my money and time. I had to deal with "contractors/handymen" who would show up once a week for half a day. I had to deal with having to completely replace each light fixture and many electrical outlets in the entire store. My husband, nicely enough, donated his time and skills and made all of my book shelves as well as the beautiful wood bar in the front of our store. Since he works full time that meant that he could only work on the bookstore after hours plus his two days off. Basically for three months he worked about 18 hours a day, seven days a week. I don't think I could ever say thank you enough to him. Memorial day passed. Fourth of July came and went. Finally towards the end of July, after painting and decorating, it looked like we might be ready to open. At this point my store was beautiful and exactly what I had pictured in my head. Warm rugs adorned the floors. A comfy orange couch was flanked by two tv trays with matching brass lamps upon them. The shelves were stained a dark walnut and wrapped around the store. The walls were a tranquil blue and green accented by the wood paneling across from the front door. I affixed tin letters painted white to spell out Finch. Every time I walked through the door and saw the name of my store, it filled me with such a warm loving feeling. 

The store was done, as perfect as it would ever be. The books were priced and on the shelves, with hundreds more still in the back, unable to be crammed into the already over-filled shelves (we are in the process of adding some more shelves...as soon as my husband has time to build me more of them). The coffee maker was installed and after a minor hiccup was now functioning perfectly. We had our pastry case and an agreement with Sugar Plum Bakery (a favorite from when I was a kid) to sell their pastries. I could not be happier, until opening day. 

The ugly reality is "if you build it, they will come" is a lovely line in a movie but under no circumstances should you apply this logic to opening a business without some further analysis. I figured being on the beach, with so much pedestrian traffic going by, I was bound to get in a good amount of walk-ins. I also figured with the new apartments opening up directly across from my shopping center, I would get some neighbors stopping in. I was pretty incorrect on both of those counts. The only thing I've heard from across the street is one woman calling me to say she doesn't like my sign and that I should change it (literally as they are installing it, while I have the bill in my hand). The walk-ins still make up a majority of my customers but at a much lower rate than I anticipated. Business has been hard and it's been stressful. If I'm successful that stress will be neverending. I've still not made enough money to pay myself a salary (which I won't do until I repay my mother's generous loan). I'm here at 8 am everyday (except Mondays) until 5 or 5:30 pm. After work I pick up my daughter from daycare, go home and then try to do all the chores I used to have all day for in the span of a couple hours. Then it's dinnertime, bedtime and back to the store the next day. Every time I sell someone a book they've been looking forward to reading I'm overjoyed. Whenever I sell someone a book I've already read (and loved) I smile to myself, knowing that if they're anything like me they're gonna have a blast. I have a job that while frustrating is the most rewarding job I could have ever dreamed up. I finally after years of trying to find what I was meant to do and feeling like I never fit in anywhere, have a place all to my own. This book store is a different kind of sanctuary that what I dreamed of. It's not really a place I can relax and enjoy but it's a place that makes me feel complete and gives me a reason to get dressed in the morning. My only hope is that this store will be the kind of sanctuary I envisioned for someone else. If you're reading this I hope this can be your sanctuary, your home when you're not home. Your coffee shop, your diner, your bar, or your bar or your bar.