With the convenience of readily available news sources and ebooks through the internet today, and the monopoly that chain bookstores seem to have on the literary world, you might think – why own a small, independent bookstore? Personally, I enjoy the cozy feeling of familiarity when I enter The Bookshelf, and I am absolutely smitten with the idea that the staff have some sort of personal connection to their jobs and would love to help you find what you're looking for because they truly want to – they're not just there solely because they needed a job. So, I took the liberty of asking Annie some questions this week, which will hopefully give you guys a small peek into what it's like to run an independent bookstore and highlight the one of a kind personality that is found here at The Bookshelf.
1. Have you always loved books/reading as much as you do now?
A: Yes! I have very distinct memories of reading voraciously as a young child. I learned to read pretty early (thanks, Mom!), and I’ve had a book in my hand ever since.
2. Can you explain why you prefer a physical book to an ebook or internet pdf?
A: Happily. For me, reading is an experience for all of my senses. I love the feel and smell of a book, and I think you miss those deeply experiential aspects of reading when you use a Kindle or an iPad. Plus, I just don’t process as well when reading on a screen. I retain a lot more information when I read something in print (and I think that’s true for most of us).
3. Why do you think people should continue the tradition of reading physical books and newspapers instead of getting all of their information and entertainment online and from electronics?
A: Mostly for the same reasons I mentioned above. I think we retain more information when we read books, newspapers, and magazines in print, and I think we -- perhaps subconsciously -- really can get lost in a story more easily when it’s a physical book. Everything else is moving so fast; reading books make us slow down, I think.
4. What drew you to The Bookshelf? Ultimately, why did you decide to leave your previous career and come to Thomasville to run the store?
A: I was working as a legal writer and editor when I took my first-ever retail job as manager of The Bookshelf in their small Tallahassee shop. In many ways, it was a leap of faith: I was working a job I enjoyed, but I wasn’t sure how meaningful my working life had become, and I wondered what might be next. I had no idea that manager position would lead to me actually owning my own bookstore, and I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to take the leap if I had known what was ahead.
5. What's your favorite aspect of running the store? Can you give a specific moment that has really stood out to you in the way of The Bookshelf's influence/involvement with the community here?
A: My favorite aspect of the store is still interacting with readers. Many days, I have to do “owner” type tasks: pay bills, order product, respond to emails. But the days I get to be in the shop, reading to kids, putting books into the hands of people who will love them like I do? Those are my favorite. We host so many events in the shop, and those are the days I know The Bookshelf is making a difference. I want The Bookshelf to be a warm, community gathering place, and I think I realized we were doing something right the night of our very first soup night. We opened our doors to the community with little expectation that night, and then over 40 people came, had soup, and mingled and visited. It’s still a favorite memory.
6. Can you please describe a typical “day in the life” here at the store?
A: One thing that’s both wonderful and terrifying about small business ownership is every day is different! For someone like me who’s routine oriented, it’s been quite the adjustment, but I try to incorporate a little bit of normalcy into my weeks. I try to get to the shop every day by 9, often running to the bank or the post office between 8:30 and 9:00. That gives me about an hour of quiet to check my email; if it’s a Tuesday, a local preschool comes for story time at 9:30, and getting to start my day with those kids, giggling over books and stickers, is pretty fun. On Wednesdays, I edit our shop podcast and prep our weekly email. I know some things I need to delegate, but I so love sitting down to write that newsletter. It reminds me a little bit of my old life, and I love sharing with customers snippets of what’s coming up next and what’s been on my mind. Mornings are usually fairly quiet, so I’ll work in my office or help shelve new books. Tuesdays are new release days -- which I love -- and most every afternoon, UPS comes with a shipment of goodies. A Bookshelf staffer and I will unload the boxes together, and we’ll work on reshelving and displaying things to keep the shop looking lovely. On any given day, staffers are shelving, reorganizing, dusting (so much dust!), posting to Instagram, scheduling events… The Bookshelf keeps all of us busy, but I think it’s fun, and I hope my staffers enjoy it, too.
7. When you decided to take over The Bookshelf, what was the main reason?
A: Honestly -- and this sounds cheesy -- but I wanted to live out a better story in my life. I wanted to do something bold and a little bit risky and scary and life-changing. I think I succeeded.
8. As a customer, what caused you to prefer indie stores over larger chains?
A: Even before my days running an indie bookstore, I loved shopping locally and supporting smaller, independent bookstores and shops. They’re more personal and less overwhelming. I get bogged down in a big, box store. I prefer shops that have been curated with care, and I hope that shows now that I run a store of my own.
9. Do you think being located in Thomasville is to your advantage in owning a bookstore like The ‘Shelf?
A: Yes! Thomasville is a city that cares about their independently-owned businesses, and because it’s a smaller town, we don’t have to worry too much about competing with a store like Barnes and Noble. I’m so grateful for Thomasville and the downtown community they’ve created; it makes owning my store a joy, because the people here love their town, and they want to keep businesses like ours open. I think people have to really “get” shopping local in order for stores like mine to exist. Thomasville gets it.
10. Can you give us a specific moment, maybe recently, that just made you sit back and think "I love what I do"?
A: Sometimes, running The Bookshelf can be daunting. There are people to manage, and changing schedules and seasons. Every day presents a new challenge to overcome or a problem to solve. But when I see a kid reading by herself in the back of the store, or when people gather together to talk about books, or when a store event is a big success, I think: I’m doing it. Everything’s going to be okay. This is working. I’m living my dream, and I’m so grateful.
Reading Annie's answers here, in my opinion, reaffirms the idea that independent store owners and staff members actually have a deep understanding and care for their patrons, and they really resonate with the avid reader in me. There's nothing better found in someone who is trying to help you along in your literary journey, and that's what you'll get here at The 'Shelf. We'd love for you to put down those ereaders and come out to the shop for a sincerely personal experience - or check us out on social media, listen to our weekly podcast, and look for us at events around town (coming up: Poe readings at the Lapham-Patterson House this Halloween!). We're also introducing a new product this month - Fall Shelf Selections - featuring specially curated books and gift items found in The Bookshelf with the approaching autumn season in mind (available online or in store). Downtown Thomasville is known for its reverence for small businesses, which is something The Bookshelf truly appreciates and loves about this community - so shop local y'all! Hope to see you in the store!