Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dragonfly Books - Decorah, IA

Dragonfly Books - Decorah, IA

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Happy Birthday Dragonfly Books!  Dragonfly Books has been open 4 years and celebrates its birthday this month.  This is an indie success story in a small northern Iowa community of approximately 8000.  After talking to the owner, Kate R., it's obvious that the success here falls squarely on her shoulders.  She knows the community, she knows books, and she knows business.  I think four years of business is a mere prelude for a long, successful run.

Everyone battles a mid-life crisis in their own way.  Some people will buy an expensive sports car, some might go on a long, soul-searching journey, some will burn through lots of money, some might visit bookstores (good grief, who would do that?!).  Or some might decide to open a bookstore.  That's exactly what Kate did in her hometown of Decorah, IA.  She wandered through academia, financial services, music, and library sciences but I have a feeling that owning a bookstore was in there all along.  After visiting this community, I can't imagine it NOT having a bookstore.  It attracts a nice mix of customers who are local and within a 75 mile radius, tourists (especially in the summer months), and people with connection at the local college, Luther College.

The one-level store has a great location in the heart of the downtown business district on a main street.  You can find recent bestsellers and also a nice assortment of children's and young adult.  The store is active with author events on-site and can accommodate up to 50 people.  Kate is considering some off-site options as well for larger crowds.  It's impressive that a bookstore in this small community has an events coordinator on staff, a great sign for an engaged business.  There are only a few sidelines here, all the more remarkable that the store can succeed with a minimum of these.  There are no used books available here and that doesn't seem to be something that will be changing in the near future.

It was hard to believe that on the week day morning of my visit in this small Iowa town, Dragonfly was enjoying a steady stream of business.  How fortunate for this community to have a vital, energetic bookstore.  Lots of towns around the country would be lucky to have a bookstore like this.  In honor of its 4 year birthday, I didn't bake a cake or bring it a present.  Instead, I bought a couple of books.  Mid-life crisis resolved!  Do not pass up a chance to visit this unique town with many unique shops, and one very special independent bookstore.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:  Sycamore Row, John Grisham.  Loved it.  If you're a Grisham fan and haven't read this yet, move it to the top of your list.

JUST FINISHED:  Andre The Giant: Life And Legend, Box Brown.  Not my typical kind of book but gave it a try based on a bookseller's recommendation.  A cartoon biography, or graphic novel, of Andre The Giant.  True story of his challenging life in all-star wrestling.  Interesting.  I liked it and it is very quick.

CURRENTLY READING:  In The Shadow Of The Banyan, Vaddey Ratner.  Enjoying it.  Probably one of the best books nobody knows about.

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  Boundary Waters, William Kent Krueger.  Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger.

Dragonfly Books from across the street.  

One of the window displays.

View looking straight back through the store from the front door.  Alert readers may recognize the celebrity sighting.   Yes, that's my mom in the front left foreground.  

Have a seat and try out a book.  

February means Valentine's Day and this indie is ready!

A few greeting cards by Decorah High School art students.  If you're going to have sidelines, this is a great idea.  

One of the book aisles looking toward the rear.  

Some sidelines for the kids.

View from the rear of the store looking toward the front.  

Looking for some puzzles?  Pick one up with the book you're going to get!

Are you kidding me?  Who doesn't like PooPooPaper?!  You'll be doing the planet a favor by buying some!

A great sign above the door.

With Kate R., the fine owner at Dragonfly Books.  Thanks for a great visit.  

Friday, February 13, 2015

Alma Libre Bookstore - Puerto Morelos, Mexico

Alma Libre Bookstore - Puerto Morales, Mexico

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Readers, this is the life.  As I sit here writing this entry somewhere south of Cancun, the gentle breezes caress my pasty-white midwestern skin (how's that for Descriptive Writing 101?  HA!).  I casually eat my fresh mango and feel the spirit of Ernest Hemingway as I gaze across the gulf waters toward Cuba. This all sounds very nice but I couldn't get to this point without visiting a bookstore which is exactly what I did.  Take a short trip south along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and you'll come to the small town of Puerto Morelos, home of Alma Libre Bookstore, the only bookstore in the Yucatan Peninsula area.  Since it's the only one in the area, you must visit it when you vacation here.  The Indie Bob Spot is no longer just a national project.  It just went international.

Alma Libre is located right on the square of Puerto Morelos and you can easily see the gulf from the store, a mere block away.  I was curious to find out the differences between this indie and the many indies I've visited in the States.  There is no ABA (American Booksellers Association) or any similar organization here in Mexico.  Indies here are on their own.  Getting books here is a huge challenge because of all the red tape you have to go through.  Since 99% of the customers here are English-speaking tourists, the store sells primarily English books, both new and used.  And because the postal service here is so dreadfully bad, they don't have the concerns about Amazon that the bookstores in the States have.  Customers in Mexico who order through Amazon sometimes never see their book arrive.

Alma Libre is owned by Rob and Joanne B., two Canadians.  On the day of my visit I met Joanne and had a great talk with her.  She couldn't have been nicer and more welcoming.  The store has been here for 18 years and Rob and her have been the owners for 13 years.  Like many US indies, they need their sidelines in order to keep the business going, which is a challenge.  They've tried to stay open in the summer months but no longer do so since there are no tourists and no local business.  They return to their homes in Canada in May and then come back to Puerto Morelos in November.  When they return to Puerto Morelos, they bring about 5000 books to stock their store.  They also place occasional orders with a US distributor who is willing to help them and also through sources in Mexico.  Joanne has done a great job of knowing exactly what to have in the store and what the tourists want, which includes books of local and regional interests.  There are also books here by local authors.  Some of the books in highest demand by customers are classics and sci-fi.  They don't have author events here but Joanne is open to it.  Because of the tourist customer base, however, she is unsure if they would be successful.

Joanne is like so many other bookstore owners I've met on my journey.  Friendly to talk to, receptive to my visit, and knowledgeable about her business and her customer  base.  If you're not interested in a book, you can always contact her about rentals in Puerto Morales, a small town you would enjoy seeing.  I know many of you have visited some of the bookstores I've shared with you in the States. And now you must expand your horizons to a fantastic little bookstore in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, not far from Cancun.  After all, you're going to need a book for all your beach time!  Ir a un indie y compar un libro.  Buenas Noches.

CURRENTLY READING:  Sycamore Row, John Grisham.  Almost done.  Loving it.

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  Gifted actually, Secrets Of The Talking Jaguar, Martín Prechtel.  Thanks Joanne.

View from the outside.  

This is the front window.  The store has a very open air feeling to it.  

Front entrance.  

Continue through this inner doorway and you're in the store.  

View looking straight back through the store.  

A few of the sidelines in the front.  Some of you more devoted readers may recognize the right elbow of The Indie Bob Spot's graphic artist, Cheryl M.  

Books of local interest.  

Have a seat and browse a book.  

The book bags here have a Mexican flair.  

Some of the figurines that are very popular here.  

A great selection of classics which are huge with the tourists here.  

One of the book aisles looking toward the front.  

One of the book aisles.  

Another spot to try out a book.  

View from the rear of the store looking toward the front.  

Staff picks can be found here just like any other indie you visit.  

More sidelines.  

With Joanne, the fine co-owner at Alma Libre.  Thanks for a great visit.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Arcadia Books - Spring Green, WI

Arcadia Books - Spring Green, WI

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Sometimes when I visit bookstores and do my blog write-up, I'll struggle to find the right adjectives to describe the store.  I always come up with something but occasionally I'll have to think on it.  Not with Arcadia, in Spring Green, WI.  This store is absolutely CUTE with a capital 'C!'  The store, the space, the café, everything.  A very cute little bookstore located in small town America.

With my recent travels, this is the second bookstore I've visited in Wisconsin and both of them are outstanding.  I'm always amazed when I visit a store like Arcadia by how it is able to succeed in a small town like Spring Green with a population of approximately 1600.  Like other indies in small towns, it's a combination of factors.  There's certainly local support within Spring Green and the surrounding communities.  But business here is big with tourists and the summer months.  The town is home to the American Players Theater, the 2nd largest company of its kind in the country.  Frank Lloyd Wright's, House On The Rock is also nearby and both of these attractions are great tourist draws in the summer months.

I didn't get to meet the owner, James B., on this visit, but with tourist attractions like the ones I've mentioned and a cultural arts vibe in the community, he must've had a vision that an independent bookstore would be a perfect fit.  He was right.  It's off to a great start and will turn 4 years old in May.  Relatively young, but a great sign in this small community to make it this far and to do it successfully.

In addition to books, there is a wonderful café where you can sip a morning coffee or have a light lunch, and use the free wifi.  There are some sidelines here which help the profit margin and that business may expand in the future.  The store is very active with author events and hosts them on-site in the café space.  For larger events, like David Axelrod coming on August 6, 2015, all they have to do is go to the theater directly across the street.

During my visit I had the good fortune of meeting Nancy and John, two of the fine booksellers here.  And even though this town is small, they have a good sized staff here, another sign of a successful business for a small community.  Nancy and John were both wonderful to talk to, telling me a lot about the store and of course, more bookstores I should visit.

The next time you're browsing a bookstore, see if you can find a dictionary of independent bookstores. When you find it, look up the word "cute."  The picture you see next to that word will be of Arcadia Books.  If I lived in Spring Green, Arcadia Books would never get rid of me!  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

JUST FINISHED:   A Room Of One's Own, Ruth Ozeki.  A diary written by a teenage girl in Japan washes up onshore in the Canadian Pacific Northwest.  The story alternates between the teenage girl and the woman who found her diary.  Outstanding.  I thoroughly enjoyed this.  Highly recommended.

JUST FINISHED:  The Boys In The Boat, Daniel James Brown.  Story of the 8 member crew team from the University of Washington, their lives, and their goal of making the 1936 Olympics, with the storm clouds of Nazi Germany in the background.  A true story that is absolutely fantastic.  You don't have to know a thing about rowing to enjoy this book.  Run, don't walk, to your nearest indie and pick this one up.

CURRENTLY READING:  Sycamore Row, John Grisham.  I love Grisham and love his stories.

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  Displacement A Traveloguue, Lucy Knisley.  The Stench Of Honolulu, Jack Handey.

From across the street and looking into the sun.  I have to time my arrivals better or go on a cloudy day.  

A great front window display.  

Arcadia is located on a corner, this is the other side.  

Entering the store and my view looking to the left.  

Looking into the café from the entrance.  

These are my kind of seats in a bookstore!

Front display of books.  

After you buy a book as a gift you'll need to get a card.  

Another great place to sit and try out a book.  

Here are the bestsellers at Arcadia for 2014.  I always like these displays.  

Looking toward the children's section.  Have a seat anywhere on this bench while your kids are looking at books.  

A portion of the children's section.  

With Nancy, one of the fine booksellers at Arcadia.  Thanks for a great visit!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Room Of One's Own - Madison, WI

A Room Of One's Own - Madison, WI

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It is very appropriate for this project and this bookstore that I can finally use the phrase, "don't judge a book by its cover."  This place looks normal enough from the outside, a typical bookstore front.  When I enter these places I tend to get absorbed immediately inside the front door.  Don't let that happen to you!  This place wanders and rambles the further through the store you advance.  Lots of rooms with lots of space and lots of books.  Heck, there are even rooms devoted to containing their own genres, like a sci-fi room and a poetry room.  A Room Of One's Own could easily be SEVERAL rooms of one's own!

This bookstore is not featured in Ron Rice's, My Bookstore, but boy is it deserving.  Other than a café, this store has everything a premium indie needs to be 5-star.  Solid, experienced ownership who are friendly and knowledgeable; huge inventory of new and used books; active author events; fantastic location (although parking is tricky); a modest selection of sidelines; and lots of space in the store and lots of places to sit.  For me this all adds up to an incredible bookstore experience (and you can't get that on Amazon!).  The organization here is fantastic and browsing is very easy to do.  The store is also tied closely to the University of Wisconsin and does a lot of business with students looking for books for classes.

The store is co-owned by Nancy and Sandi T.  I had a great chat with them as well as one of the booksellers, Jess.  Sandi has been with the store for over 40 years but it has only been in its current location for over two years.  The location is just off State St., a popular area with many unique shops, cafés, pubs, and is very busy with student traffic.  Sandi told me that while there is strong local business for the store, she said approximately 20% of the business comes from out of town.  This university is huge which draws conferences of all kinds and they seek out this store when they're in town.  There are also customers who come from surrounding towns because many do not have local bookstores.  There is a great collection of greeting cards here and many people come just for those.  The sidelines, while not critical, make up an important part of the profit margin.  Sandi says that things are trending well for this bookstore but with this location, the competition is with bars and restaurants since they could make huge profits if they were in this store's location.

If you've never been to Madison you need to make this town a destination.  Lots of uniqueness and lots of independently owned businesses.  And now when you visit, I've given you a wonderful bookstore that you won't want to miss.  Go to an indie and buy a book.  Bonsoir.

CURRENTLY READING:  A Tale For The Time Being, Ruth Ozeki.  Enjoying it.

RECENTLY PURCHASED:  God Got A Dog, Cynthia Ryland & Marla Frazee.  I don't normally go in for a poetry book but this looked very good and with nice illustrations.

Avol's Books is a former independent used bookstore.  It is now partnered with A Room Of One's Own and under the same roof.  

Outside sign.  

Check out the bargains before you even enter the store!

View just inside front entrance looking toward the rear.  There is much more than what you see here.  

View looking to the right from the front entrance.  

Because this is Wisconsin in the winter you'll need a scarf.  

View looking left from the front entrance.  Lots of greeting cards and in the space further to the left behind the cards is the children's section.  

Lots of local author and local interest books, located in the front of the store.  

These are upscale bags offered here.  It takes 4-5 hardback books to equal the profit of one of these bags.  

In the children's section.  A great place for a parent and a toddler!  

A portion of the children's section.  

A very small portion of the fiction section.  Staff picks can be found throughout the store.  

Proceeding through the center of the store.  As you continue past this point there are more rooms and more books.  

Lots of books in this area are for students at the university.  

A great place to browse a book.  

These are only SOME of the book subjects in this room.  

View from the rear of the store looking toward the front.  

A great area to sit and discuss a book.  

Door art!

Part of the book organization.  

Proceed through this hallway and find additional book rooms along the right.  

If you're a sci-fi fan, you'll find a room with all of your favorites.  

This won't work with Amazon.  Thank you independent bookstores.  

With Co-owners Sandi in the middle, and Nancy on the right.  Thanks for a a great visit!