~An Interview with Once Upon A Storybook owner, Susie Alexander~
There is no greater joy than of a bookworm in their natural habitat. Whether you're buying a classic novel, splurging on a series you haven't even started yet, or anxiously awaiting the release of the next book in your favorite series, you're where your heart always longs to be...
...in a bookstore.
And if you're lucky enough, you will find a local bookstore that has everything you need: a family owned name, rows and rows of endless books, book signings, that new (and old/used) book smell, generations of families gathering together to introduce the love of reading to their little ones, and everything else in the world that makes you blissful upon entering its doors.
There is nothing that makes a bookworm as happy as being in a bookstore--even if you prefer ereaders. A bookstore's magic is irresistible to anyone willing to pick up a good story and enjoy it thoroughly.
As The Literary Connoisseur, I am always more than thrilled to bring awareness to all aspects of the literary world, especially one as important as the world of independent bookstores. They truly are the heart of the literary world. Without them, we wouldn't have once-in-a-lifetime incredible book signings, authors wouldn't make nearly as many sales as they deserve, and bookworms would have no place to go to escape normalcy and read for hours on end.
Independent bookstores are the heart and soul of the literary community.
In fact, I had the honor of (virtually) sitting down with Susie Alexander, owner of Once Upon a Storybook, an independent bookstore in Tustin, California. We talked about her life as a bookshop owner, the world of independent bookstores, the trials of owning a bookstore, and more. She is the first ever bookstore owner to be interviewed by me, and I have to say, I enjoyed our wonderful chat quite a bit!
So please enjoy this look into the wonderful world of Indie bookstores, and please welcome Ms Susie Alexander!
The Literary Connoisseur: Hello Susie, and welcome to The Literary Connoisseur! Thank you so much for stopping by and for answering some questions about your independent bookstore, Once Upon a Storybook, and your life as a bookstore owner! If you're ready, let's begin. Tell us a bit about your bookstore, Once Upon a Storybook.
Susie Alexander: Hi Rebecca! Once Upon a Storybook is a unique children’s bookstore that features the best in classic and contemporary literature. We also host multiple weekly storytimes and great events for kids and families. Besides expert advice on children’s literature, we offer darling little reading cubbies to read and play in, a train table, and complimentary gift wrap
The Literary Connoisseur: I know many bookworms would love to own their own bookstore some day. Have you always wanted to run a bookstore? Has it been a dream of yours as a literature lover?
Susie Alexander: I have always been a booklover, especially children’s books. I have a degree in English, and my favorite course was Children’s Literature. When I homeschooled my kids, I always organized our lessons around literature, and I taught literature classes for other homeschooled kids (my favorite was Cinderella Stories—Cinderella stories around the world and through time). When my most recent job in the cognitive training field was eliminated, I took some time to decide what I really wanted to do with the second half of my life. It was my best friend who jokingly suggested “we should open a children’s bookstore together.” At that moment, the clouds opened up and the angels sang—Yes! Of course! A children’s bookstore! When I mentioned it to my husband, he said, “How do you know you want to be in retail? We’ve never done retail. You need to go work at Barnes & Noble to see if you like it or are any good at it.” It was brilliant advice! I worked at B&N for about a year and half. During that time, I learned that the book industry really does use the vocabulary that was mentioned in the books I was reading. I learned about retail, cash registers, managing people, customer service. It was really a great experience in preparing me for my own store. Over all, it was a 3-yr process, preparing to open the store.
The Literary Connoisseur: How important are independent bookstores to our society?
Susie Alexander: Having worked at a megabookstore, I can tell you that there is something unique about the independent bookstore movement. There are many places you can buy books, from B&N to Costco to Amazon, but I have seen that although reading is usually a solitary activity, books are a social one. When people walk into my store, they want to talk about books; they want to express the memories they have with specific books they grew up with; they want to ask questions about subject matter, authors, new titles. Bookstores are a gathering place—often moms will run into other moms they know at my store—or they will use my store as a place to meet up with friends. One of the things I have said about Once Upon a Storybook is that I want it to be a place where kids grow up. I want the events, activities, and the books themselves to be a part of their childhoods. Before I opened the store, I had read a lot about how independent bookstores were a social hub in many communities, and now I see that it is true.
The Literary Connoisseur: Do you have an opinion on whether ebooks are harming or helping bookstores (with actual paper books) around the world?
Susie Alexander: Digital devices and ebooks are here to stay. I think we are wasting our energy if we try to combat them. What independent bookstores need to do is show their value to the community. What do we at bookstores do with our paper books that is different than can be done with an ebook? In the children’s book world, it is much easier to show the difference—most people don’t care to read a book aloud to a child on a device. It’s just not the same as turning the pages and having that real experience. We also connect books and activities as much as we can.
The Literary Connoisseur: What variety of books do you carry?
Susie Alexander: We carry books for birth to age 14, so we’ve got a healthy section of board books, picture books, leveled readers, early chapter books, chapter books, and activity books. Plus, it is really important to me to carry a variety of interesting nonfiction, so we have a lot of biography, history, science, and spiritual books. The adult books we carry center on parenting, childbirth, and education.
The Literary Connoisseur: Do you carry other products in your store besides books?
Susie Alexander: Everything in our store is either a book or directly related to a book. We have a number of plush characters that pair up with books, like Olivia, Llama Llama, and Pete the Cat; and we have some Wimpy Kid writing supplies. We have a great selection of literary t-shirts that I adore! Everything from Very Hungry Caterpillar to Pride & Prejudice.
The Literary Connoisseur: What sort of programs and events does your store provide for its community? (Story times, educational events, etc.)
Susie Alexander: We have two weekly (identical) preschool storytimes, plus a Milk & Cookies Storytime (we all wear our jammies—even me!) weekly in the evenings. We have a monthly chapter readers book club and monthly writer’s workshop. Our favorite event of the month is Paws & Pals. The third Friday of each month the Orange County SPCA brings their therapy dogs, and each kid get 15-minutes to read aloud to a dog. It is the sweetest thing you have ever seen! Sometimes the moms tear up. I had one mom say she had never seen her son read with confidence until he read to the dogs. A number of other moms say it’s the best reading their kids do all week. It’s a free program, and I am so honored that the SPCA has volunteered to bring this to us every month.
The Literary Connoisseur: Is there an author you would most like to see make an appearance at Once Upon a Storybook? An author you'd love to meet, perhaps?
Susie Alexander: I recently spoke to John Archambault (of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom fame) on the phone—I couldn’t stop giggling. I finally said, “You’re the most famous person I’ve ever talked to!” I also went a little crazy when Lori Evert (from The Christmas Wish) liked our Facebook page. But I think the day that Jon Klassen or Mac Barnett comes to my store, you’ll have to mop me up off the floor! I do get excited about all of our author visits—it’s such an honor that they take the time to come here and read to our kids. Picture books are really my favorite, so those author/illustrators are my literary heroes.
The Literary Connoisseur: Do you have any exciting events coming up that you would like to share with the world? (And future shoppers of Once Upon a Storybook?)
Susie Alexander: Ooh, thank you! We are hosting an author signing by a self-published author with one of the best picture books I have ever seen (and, like I said, that is my specialty, so I don’t say that lightly)—Kip Noschese. He is a former Disney animator who has written and illustrated a fabulous story, Otto and the Grand Prix Bees. Also, like I mentioned, John Archambault is coming in March to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom! Apparently, he does a whole little show—he plays the guitar and sings. I can’t wait! Also, my favorite upcoming non-author event is our Caldecott Soiree that we are having the Saturday after the Caldecott is announced. We will have a red carpet and will award ribbons to the Caldecott Honors and a trophy to the Caldecott Award winner, and, of course, we will read them all.
The Literary Connoisseur: What has been your favorite thing about owning a bookstore so far?
Susie Alexander: That’s easy (although there are MANY wonderful things!). There is nothing like putting the perfect book in the hands of a grandma, mom, or kid! When you recommend a book, and they buy it, and you know they are going to love it, it is the greatest feeling in the world! I don’t think I will ever get over it!
11. The Literary Connoisseur: Where would you like to see yourself, Once Upon a Storybook, and the independent bookstores around the world in ten years?
Susie Alexander: That’s a big question. Certainly, I realistically think independent bookstores will continue to grow around the country, as the larger bookstores level off. Thanks to American Express and the Shop Small movement, awareness is growing for the importance of shopping local. For us, personally, I would like to be known as a fixture in our community, a resource for parents and educators, and that we would grow in our expertise about literature so that we can be a resource for other independent bookstores in the country. But, first, I’d like to just make our budget ;-)
The Literary Connoisseur: What is one thing you would like to share with the world, that not everyone would know about being a bookstore owner?
Susie Alexander: My husband tried to warn me, and he was absolutely right—Being a bookstore owner means that you spend much less time doing the parts you love (being with the customers, running the activities) and much more doing the hard stuff—writing budgets, communicating with vendors, researching new ways to market. I am surprised how much time I spend each day in my office! But when you have awesome people work with you, it helps.
The Literary Connoisseur: Again, thank you so much for stopping by and answering some questions about your store, Susie! I'm sure we're all excited to come in for a shopping spree!
To learn more about Once Upon a Storybook, be sure to check out their website here!
Like their Facebook page here!
And call them for store hours, events, and more at (714) 669-4377