"A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking." Jerry Seinfeld


Working on the risk

I resigned from B&N two weeks ago.

To put it simply, you can take the girl out of the indie bookstore but you can't take the indie bookstore out of the girl.

And it was high time I kicked my own butt into gear and got back to where I belong.

The decision to walk away from a weekly paycheck into voluntary unemployment was not a difficult one to make. I have no regrets.

I've dreamed of running my own bookstore and I've spent my ten post-college-graduation years pursuing the required hands-on knowledge in order to accomplish this goal. I've worked the bookfloor, the receiving room, the information desk, cashwrap. I've paid attention to booksellers with twenty years experience, assistant and general managers, CEOs and CFOs, and I've made sure to ask questions of all of them. I've studied catalogs, sales trends, the community, its readers, and its needs. I've watched the ebook trend like a hawk and asked for hands-on training. I've networked, read, and studied. It is high time I take those experiences and put them to work.

Cleveland already has a thriving indie bookstore community but there are still areas of great opportunity, with existing local government and shopowner support. There are readers out there looking for a community bookstore that can bring their favorite authors, support classrooms and non-profits, supply storytimes for little ones and bookclubs for all ages. There are empty storefronts dying for brightly colored displays, local businesses looking for networking partners, and an upcoming holiday season that could signal an economic turnaround.

And I have a group of former indie booksellers who are dying to get back in the biz as much as I am.

I have the experience to open my own store. I have the staff waiting on a call. I have friends and family who fully support the dream. Through Twitter, I have strangers who have become cheerleaders. I don't have the money – yet. But I know who to go to in order to figure that part out. I'm going to join the ABA, hopefully get to Wi7, and scrounge up the money to head to a Paz & Associates workshop. I have other contacts who are offering their professional advice, contacts, and full support. And I have people already asking if I'm looking for a business partner.

I have all of the parts for a fully functioning, financially successful, world-class bookstore.

I just have to put it all together.

I welcome the challenge.


I'll read anything by John Hart, Chelsea Cain, Jasper Fforde. I'll see any movie with George Clooney, buy every CD by Keith Urban.

And I'll see Yellowcard every time they come to Cleveland.

I'm lucky enough to be blood-related to Alternative Press Magazine & I discovered Yellowcard in their pages before Ocean Avenue hit. It was love at first drum kick, lust at the first pull of the bow, and it only took one listen of "Only One" to make me a lifetime fan.

The first time I saw them live, I was with my brother. We lost our voices, dripping in sweat from the pit, hands sore from clapping. We were tired and tingling, ears stuffed with lyrics & hearts pounding in our ribcage. We'd jumped with hundreds of strangers, pumped our fists in time, screamed the lines we wanted every ex to hear. On the way out of the pit, I remember my brother draping his arm around me in a hug, saying, "Hell. Yes." We've made it a point to be at every Yellowcard show since, no excuses. We've seen them on our birthdays, outdoors, in snowstorms, acoustic, even when band members were sick, even when we were sick. They leave it on the stage every show, every time. They exude confidence, love, and they give it all, knowing the crowd will give it back ten fold. I've seen them convert doubters first-hand, seen them get a crowd who has never seen them into the biggest, loudest, mosh pit; seen them backflip off speakers, smash three sets of drumsticks in one song, and extend a song by several bars just to hear the crowd sing back.

"You And Me And One Spotlight" made it onto the cd for my brother's wedding; we'll play "With You Around" at mine. My relationship with my brother will forever live inside the lyrics of "Life Of A Salesman" and "Sing For Me" is one of those songs that will reduce me to tears every time. Tonight, I'll share that box with my brother and our friends, and it will have been worth the two year hiatus.

Yellowcard is always worth the wait.


Lenten Undertakings: The Apartment

I was baptized Catholic, confirmed Methodist, but when our church made Sunday School mandatory to play rec league basketball, my parents let me make my own religious choice. I've read books on Buddhism, worked at a Jewish summer camp, & befriended Wiccans. My spirituality has no set religion; maybe that's why my views on Lent are a little different.

I've tried giving up sweets or coffee or swearing or napping only to make it a week or two before caving to temptation. Several years ago, I read an article that suggested taking something on instead of giving something up. It's been easier to stick to 30 minutes of exercise or an hour of reading or two hours of writing than spending all day giving up caffeine. I try to find something that will help me relieve stress, that's fun, and will ultimately help me become more productive. I've also found that I can keep these new undertakings way after Lent ends. It's kind of like a second chance at the New Year's resolutions I've long since forgotten.

This year, my goal is to finally get my apartment completely furnished & organized. I've lived here since August 2008 but have never fully settled in. My zen-inspired master bedroom still doesn't have a bed or window treatments. My second bedroom has become a catch-all where I'm currently sleeping; my desire to turn it into a working office has become stuck on figuring out what to do with my large bare walls and no storage options. My living room is probably the only room that is close to being finished although I need two endtables, a bunch of picture frames, and at least one more bookshelf.

I never fully settled in because I was never fully sure I'd be here this long. With a new career & lots of new opportunities, I've accepted I will probably be here for a while so why not finally make this place 100% mine.

Besides, I found some really cute pillow shams on sale for $9 that I could not pass up :)

First task is my second bedroom -- the journey starts Sunday.


Always a Bookseller

It's only been thirteen days since I last set foot in Joseph-Beth Booksellers. I enjoyed my first week or so of unemployment: my apartment is clean, laundry caught up, and I grocery shopped for more than just one meal at a time. I revamped my portfolio, bought new dress shoes & snow boots, and followed up with businesses that were waiting for me to finish my commitment to JBB. Best of all, I found the motivation to bum around and just enjoy being out of the house and free of work-related stress.

When I'm braving the Cleveland winter weather, I've found myself drawn to bookstores. There is an extreme sense of comfort just opening the door and smelling those printed pages. JBB didn't receive shipments for seven weeks so I've been thumbing through new releases, all the while thinking, "So-and-so would have loved this." I've looked at displays that I would have loved to create, and instinctively straightened table stacks or repositioned a crooked book on a stand. I've overheard customers talking about how to spend their gift cards, and commiserated with other booksellers about the January quiet. Hours pass. Sometimes I walk out with a new book, or an old one I lost long ago. Other times I have a picture book for my Someday Box. But I always leave feeling calm, refocused, and comforted. And deciding which bookstore to hit up next.

My career at Joseph-Beth proved one thing: that I am meant to be in a bookstore. I am meant to create a literary environment for book lovers where the conversation, company, and experience is undeniably intoxicating. I am meant to merchandise, handsell, and talk to the community about literature in all of its varied forms. I want to spend forty hours a week on the bookfloor; I want to meet new authors, read new books, and learn about ereaders. I want to stay in Cleveland - we're the 14th most literate city in the country! There is opportunity here!

I've gone through a few interviews & am optimistic that something will come through shortly. I can't wait to get back in a bookstore as a full-fledged bookseller. It's already been thirteen days too long...


My last JBB purchases

The saying "less is more" became extremely relevant over the last six weeks of Joseph-Beth Cleveland's history. As my store emptied out, I discovered books that had been lost to the spine-out life, ones that were shelved in the wrong sections, and many that were at the bottom of the bargain bins our liquidators brought in. Every time the discount dropped or we moved a section, I'd find something new. I'm not someone who can easily pass up a book, let alone a book on sale. Here's a rundown of the books I kept for my own collection - I gave away more as holiday gifts...

*Tom Peters Essentials: Leadership -- The Essentials series is adapted from Re-imagine!, which I already own along with Trends. Published by DK, the books are a visual guide to reinventing & reinvigorating your business. (Note: I believe the series is out of print)

*Death by PowerPoint by Michael Flocker -- As my job search continues, I'm finding there are more opportunities in office settings than anything else. This little gem is a tongue-in-cheek guide to surviving the corporate world, a place I may find myself very shortly.

*The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau -- Being an indie bookseller taught me to embrace possibility, trust myself, and do what I knew needed to be done. Being an individual, and succeeding at it, is possible and I see this book as continued reinforcement of that message.

*Queer by William S. Burroughs -- Each year I adopt a new genre of books; this year, I'm adopting The Beats. I've only read On the Road and Howl, so something by Burroughs was necessary. I also love the Penguin 25th anniversary cover.

*Teach Yourself WordPress in 10 Minutes -- I met a blogger a few months ago who raved about WordPress. I am tirelessly working on a freelance editing business and decided to take a look at WordPress. Finding that I can import this Blogger into WordPress was another perk to the program.

*Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter -- The Financial Lives of the Poets was one of my favorite handsells, and I adored The Zero. This was just next on the list & the only copy I had yet to put into someone's hands.

*Plan B by Jonathan Tropper -- The only Tropper novel I have not read, even though it was his first novel. I turned one of my toughest customers onto Tropper and she told me to snag Plan B before it was gone.

*One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde -- Obviously, I didn't purchase this but it was the last galley I received. (Thanks to Mary Ann at Penguin!) I think I will marathon re-read the series. Eyre Affair is another handsell favorite.

*Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness -- Kate from HarperCollins raved about The Knife of Never Letting Go during her last sales call. I snagged the first two books when they came in on bargain & we had one copy of Monsters left when the store went to 80%. Of course, the next day, we got a box of kids galleys & guess what was inside?

*Outlaw Bible of American Essays edited by Alan Kaufman -- Has submissions from the Beat Generation, but it also ties back into that indie spirit of nonconformity.

*The Book of Martyrdom & Artifice by Allen Ginsberg -- A collection of his first journals & poems, along with unpublished & rare material. I've always been curious about an author's beginnings; this book feeds that curiosity & my genre challenge.

*Jack of Fables Vol 5 & 6 -- I've read the Fables series for years but never delved into the spinoff. A local Half-Price Books usually has the first books in the set so now I have a good excuse to buy them.

*Illuminated Poems by Allen Ginsberg -- Beautifully illustrated by Eric Drooker & includes two never-before-released poems, an intro by Ginsberg, and the entirety of Howl. Fell in love with it as soon as I took it out of the box - just beautiful.

*Creative Girl by Katharine Sise -- The cover says the book will help "[turn] talent & creativity into a real career." With advice from resumes, to the interview, to salary negotiation, to marketing, this book is exactly what I need.

*Lovemarks by Kevin Roberts -- Visually appealing like Tom Peters's titles and explores the process of getting customers to fall in love with your brand.

*Change the Way You See Yourself by Kathryn D. Cramer -- We got a ton of the teen version of this title so when I saw the adult trade version, I snagged it. This time of my life is all about the opportunity to reinvent myself, my career, and my future. A lot of the books I purchased over the last six weeks will keep me on that track.

*Sweet Charlotte's Seventh Mistake by Cori Crooks -- The book I judged by its pages. To be honest, I have no idea what it's about but the scrapbook format was enough to make me take it home.

*Bent Objects by Terry Border -- I have a 16x20 print of the Gulliver's Travels photo with the mini books triumphing over a Kindle. I'm hoping to tear the book apart & frame a lot of these in my office.

*The Beats by Mike Evans -- the coffeetable book that inspired my adopted genre for 2011. The book also delves into the music, media, and politics that shaped the authors. I initially passed on it, even though I loved the layout. It took an hour of hunting through those ubiquitous bargain bins one early morning before I found our last copy.


Our final Monday

Two gentlemen are in our Bistro right now removing light fixtures from the ceiling. There are exposed wires everywhere.

The entire store is at least 70% off. We've begun barricading off sections with turned-out bookcases. We're down to only a handful of books in many sections and when I direct customers to the remaining shelves, most reply with, "That's it?" and they walk away without browsing.

We've had two customers come in looking to buy a cup of coffee from our Bistro, which has been closed for four weeks. Others are disappointed that the kids section is gutted & the play area is roped off with CAUTION tape. A few have complained about the power drills that are dismantling fixtures; another pointed out our overhead still has Christmas music on.

The booksellers have made multiple Starbucks runs. We are working in silence today, tucked in corners doing returns, moving bookcases without speaking, looking at our cell phones to measure the time & hoping a call for an interview comes through. Most of us have promised to stay through the end; all of us are thankful this is almost over.


Farewell Joseph-Beth Booksellers

Tonite, after ten years in Cleveland, our store will gather for its last holiday party. To say tonite will be bittersweet is the understatement of the decade.

We were never just a bookstore staff. Over the years we've become relationship counselors, shoulders to lean on, and partners in crime -- not only to each other, but also to our customers. Our favorite moments consisted of those conversations with other book lovers who were looking for a good read, a book for their mother, an "I'm sorry" gift for their partner, or an educational toy for their grandchild. We loved when customers came back, seeking us out for more advice after we'd been so helpful on their last visit. We remember hugging customers who were looking for a book to make sense of their grief, getting our cheeks pinched by little old ladies who were so ecstatic that we knew which book with the red cover they were looking for, and the smiles & little "thank you's" from toddlers who got their own bag with their own book inside. We relished buying someone a cup of coffee while we tackled their holiday book list, turning a Big Box Shopper into an Indie Supporter, and the challenge of finding a rare book through a long internet search. Author events, no matter how big or small, were always full of surprises & challenges and always made for the best stories.

For many of us, we saw our work family more than our real family and those bonds are just as strong as if we shared blood. We have found best friends, future bridesmaids & godparents, sounding boards, character references, and lifelong soulmates in each other. We have laughed, cried, yelled at and with each other. We have conspired with each other, collaborated on projects, and cooked for each other. We loved each other and turned that affection on our store to the tune of a 25% increase in top-line book sales, and a 10% increase in overall top-line store sales in a year when the critics declared death on the book industry. Ebooks, Kindles, and Amazon did not kill our spirit or our bookstore. In fact, they motivated us to do everything we could to control every bottom line factor. And we did. In the end, it was nothing we did or did not do as a staff that caused our closing. In the end, we went down fighting, kicking & screaming, the only way a bookstore should.

Tonite we will gather at to celebrate this year and to say goodbye to Joseph-Beth. Tonite will not, however, be a goodbye to each other. We cannot imagine dismantling this family of booksellers and friends and we are determined to not let losing our bookstore translate into losing each other. Bowling parties, happy hours, and potluck dinners will be a part of our future. We've made plans to visit each other at our new places of business and we started a Facebook group to stay in touch.

Tonite, we will take comfort in the death of our bookstore by celebrating the afterlife of our friendships.