Friday, January 13, 2017

Mystery To Me - Madison, WI

Mystery To Me, Madison, WI
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It's only fitting that the first bookstore I visited in the new year is a new bookstore.  Mystery To Me has only been open for 3 1/2 years and its opening and successful start only reinforces everything I hear and read that independent bookstores are returning and business is growing.  That's certainly the case here.  As Joanne B., the owner of Mystery To Me told me, business has grown steadily each year and things are going very well.  Another great sign for indies everywhere.

As the name of the store implies, this indie has a strong inventory of mystery titles and authors.  I enjoy seeing specialty stores like these but I also like it if they offer other genres.  Mystery To Me also offers a variety of fiction, non-fiction, regional interests, sci-fi, and recent releases and best-sellers.  They also have a children's section, thanks to a grant from author James Patterson, a huge supporter of independent bookstores.  All the books are new and arranged quite neatly in a one-level, medium-sized space.  It is a very comfortable store to browse in, which I like.  On the day of my visit, Joanne had the Pandora app set to the baroque channel, the best music to browse or read books for me.

For those of you who are in education and ready for a change, take heart.  Joanne was in higher education with a prestigious position at the University of Wisconsin and said, enough, I'm done with this (sound familiar, teacher friends?).  Her next chapter was to open an independent bookstore and although it's a lot of work, she told me she absolutely loves it.  This is a recurring theme with almost everyone I meet on this journey.  The store has a few sidelines, more so during the holiday season, but a huge part of the store's success has been their events.  In their first year alone they hosted over 100 events.  Most of these are held in the store but for larger events they're able to use conference space at the nearby Hotel Red.  These are all free of charge and are a great way to get customers into the store.  Joan has also established ties with many of the local libraries, a great thing for any indie owner.

If you drive here, metered parking is available on the street.  The store has a primo location that's highly visible for cars and foot traffic.  If you've never been to Mystery To Me, you're going to have a wonderful experience meeting Joanne and visiting a gem of a bookstore.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  The View From Penthouse B, Elinor Lipman.  This is kind of a chick lit book for middle-agers.  Two middle-aged but youngish sisters, one divorced and one widowed, decide to share an apartment in NYC to save money.  The widow embarks on internet dating and the divorcee decides whether to take back her immoral husband.  Numerous subplots.  This was a good book but not my cup of tea.  This will resonate for many women readers.  

CURRENTLY READING:  A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara.  

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  The Magdalen Girls, V. S. Alexander.  

When you visit a Wisconsin bookstore, in January, enduring wind chills, and take a picture outside with your gloves off, you get a blurry picture.  At least that's what I'm blaming this on.  

View looking into the store from the front entrance.  Diligent readers may recognize the celebrity on the left.  Yes, that's my mom.  

A nice view looking to the left from the front entrance.  

A few of the greeting cards available.

One very comfy chair to enjoy while you sample a book.  

A great display of the NY Times paperback bestsellers.  

A portion of the regional interests and authors.  

Some of the store's favorites.  

A portion of the children's section, funded partly by author James Patterson.  I really like the wall display.  
Another portion of the children's section.  

If mystery's aren't your thing, never fear.  You can find other great reads in this store.  

It's not too late to get that new calendar.  

Joanne has a large flat-screen in the store which allows her to Skype with authors around the country.  

If sci-fi is your thing, look for this table display.  

View looking from the back of the store toward the front entrance.  Since this picture doesn't do it justice, you'll have to visit and see for yourself.  

Another one of those quirky sidelines you can only find at an independent bookstore.  

With Joanne on the left, the fine owner at Mystery To Me.  Thanks for a great visit.  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Women & Children First Books - Chicago, IL

Women & Children First Books, Chicago, IL
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I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when visiting Women & Children First in Chicago.  What I knew beforehand was that it is a locally and nationally renowned independent bookstore.  As Jamie, the store manager told me, it's a destination for many customers.  I also knew that it came highly recommended to me by other booksellers and owners at previously visited bookstores.  But I didn't know if the store would appeal to people with interests outside of women, feminists, and children.  As with EVERY bookstore I've visited, any doubts melted away the minute I entered the store.  Women & Children First remains true to its origins by offering an inventory of women's, feminist, and children's authors and issues.  But you'll also find a great selection of recent bestsellers, popular general fiction, and a wide array of sidelines.  All of this and a pleasant atmosphere with a very friendly and welcoming staff.  In short, all the things that make this a successful and recognized independent bookstore.  

When this indie opened in 1979, part of its original mission was to bring books written by women to prominence.  As Sarah, the co-owner told me, believe it or not back in 1979 books by female authors weren't readily available.  Women & Children First helped to change that along with many other things, thanks to the vision of the original owners.  Now, the store carries just about anything and if they don't have it they can get it.  They have a great variety of sidelines and like many other indies, the greeting cards and journals are huge sellers.  They've been in their current location since 1990, a very visible corner lot and an anchor business on very busy Clark St. in the Andersonville neighborhood.  The store enjoys a large, local customer base and as Sarah told me, they're enjoying the same resurgence other bookstores are experiencing and things are going very well here.

When you visit Women & Children First you will have a terrific time meeting any of the staff.  In addition to co-owning, Sarah also handles events and the sidelines.  She, along with Jamie, the store manager and Molly, one of the staffers, as well as the others were fantastic.  I've said it before but these people really are my rock stars.  They were swamped on the week day of my visit with lots of holiday shoppers yet they were still able to take time to meet and visit with me for which I'm so appreciative.

Readers, you have no reason to shy away from this bookstore.  And since many of you live near Chicago or visit there, you have no excuses.  Take the red line to the Berwyn station and then a 10-minute walk to a fabulous bookstore with a 5-star staff.  If you're not a regular, you'll become one after your first visit.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

CURRENTLY READING:  The View From Penthouse B, Elinor Lipman.

Another exterior view.  The store has a great corner location.  

One of the window displays.  You can check out the staff favorites before you even walk in the door.  

View looking straight into the store from the front entrance.  

Looking to the right from the front entrance.  

Looking to the left from the front entrance.  

This is my kind of place to try out a book!

It's not too late to get your 2017 calendar.  

A great staff pick display.  You can find staff picks throughout the store.  

A few of the greeting cards available.  

Take time to notice the pictures around the store of the many authors who have appeared here.  

The store has lots of table displays.  

The store's top-sellers for 2016.  

A few of the magazines available.  

Bring your Harry Potter fans here.  

Kudos to the person who designed this book bag and did the art work.  

A portion of the children's section.  

T-shirts with a literary theme.  

View looking toward the front entrance from the back of the store.

Some great sidelines here.  

I absolutely love this.  Pick up the phone, dial a number on the left that corresponds to a book title and hear a review.  

View of the second room.  More sidelines and more books.  

There are numerous sidelines throughout the store.  

Shop local, buy local.  Every independent bookstore you visit supports your local economy.  

These are some of the terrific people you'll meet at Women & Children First.  After me, L-R, Molly, Jamie, and Sarah.  Thanks for a great visit.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Volumes Bookcafe - Chicago, IL

Volumes Bookcafe, Chicago, IL
(Like The Indie Bob Spot on Facebook and follow The Indie Bob Spot on Twitter)

Opening an independent bookstore is not for the faint of heart.  There is an incredible amount of planning, research, and legalities that most bookstore patrons rarely consider.  And if a person has no background in business or retail and wants to open a bookstore, well, good luck.  But if the people have a background in teaching like co-owners Kimberly and Rebecca at Volumes Bookcafe, then all bets are off.  Good teachers are resourceful, creative, tenacious, and have lots of contacts and these two utilized all of these talents to open a beautiful, well-organized, perfectly charming bookstore and cafe.  These two co-owners are sisters who benefitted from their dad's garage and carpentry skills; same goes for their uber intelligent engineer uncle, and countless other friends and relatives.  Bottom line?  Don't open an independent bookstore without a good support system.  Thankfully, Kimberly and Rebecca have that in spades and this indie is off to a flying start.

I think Volumes has a fantastic location in the Wicker Park neighborhood along the very busy Milwaukee Ave.  It is highly visible for foot traffic and automobile traffic alike.  The store is a long and deep one-level space in a building easily over 100 years old.  Rebecca has done a lot of creative interior decorating that helps deliver some of the store's charm.  Volumes offers new books and a variety of sidelines including greeting cards, calendars, seasonal gift items, and locally made jewelry and journals to name just a few.  Like all new indies, decisions about what sidelines to carry will evolve over time as they learn their customers better.  Even though this store has only been open for a few months, it is already engaged with lots of store and author events and community involvement.  I can't believe how busy their events schedule is in the short time they've been open.  Everything from book clubs and story times to author events and one of my favorites, a monthly women's comedy night.  If you visit during the day you can enjoy a coffee of latte and if you attend an evening event treat yourself to a glass of wine or a beer.  If the store ever offers bedrooms, I would see no reason to leave!

Kimberly was so kind to tell me about the creation of this store and its beginnings.  Like many communities, this one desperately needed a bookstore/cafe.  In its short existence, it has been strongly supported by many local authors as well as the surrounding community.  But since it's new, many of you don't know about it.  Sooner or later, this store is going to have a bee-line of customers surging through the doors.  Beat the rush and get there now.  Everyone who visits will love this place and the people who work there and you will have a terrific bookstore experience.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  I Thought You Were Dead, Pete Nelson.  Story of a divorced guy living with only his dog, Stella.  Stella is a talking dog who helps him with his family, his relationships, and his life problems.  This story is sad at times, but in the end it is a rewarding book.  I thoroughly enjoyed this one and it is an easy read.  Recommended.

CURRENTLY READING:  The View From Penthouse B, Elinor Lipman.

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  Phantom Limbs, Paula Garner.  Searching For John Hughes, Jason Diamond.  

Another exterior view.  I like the graphic artist's design for the store name.  

One of the front window displays.  

View looking straight through the store from the front entrance.  As you can see, the cafe is in the front of the store.  

View looking to the left from the front entrance.  

Great places to sit and try out a book.  

Volumes has wasted no time in setting up an active events schedule.  

I love this "blind date with a book" promotion.  I've seen a few other indies do this and I love the idea.  At Volumes, $3 will get you a book wrapped in brown paper with only the synopsis to go by.  Come on, take a chance!  

Locally made jewelry available here.  

I can always count on seeing things in a bookstore that I've never seen elsewhere.  

Along the walls you'll see some great literary quotes.  

You'll be here awhile.  Get something to drink.  

One of the table displays of books.  

You'll need some of these candles to read by in case your power goes out.  

A few of the magazines available.  

Another great place to sip a coffee, set it on the table, and enjoy trying out a book.  

A tree for the season and a few of the greeting cards available.  

A portion of the very attractive children's section.  

Another nice place to sit in the children's section.  

View looking from the back of the store toward the front entrance.  

I love the tin ceilings in many of the bookstores I visit that are in historic buildings.  

A great table display for kids.  

A few of the staff picks.  

These book covers are part of a wall design.  This picture doesn't do it justice so visit the store and see for yourself.  

This stack of books cleverly hides a floor to ceiling pipe.  Great artistic creativity!   
With Kimberly, one of the fine co-owners at Volumes Bookcafe.  Thanks for a great visit.