Eight Is Great

Spellbound turns eight this month and, even more than usual at this time of year, I am both amazed and gratified that we have made it another year. I’m not sure that there is any such thing as a typical year; this one has certainly been anything but.

In the last twelve months, Spellbound has bequeathed its Wall Street location to our dear neighbors at Chai Pani for their fabulous new venture MG Road, joined forces with ZaPow (the coolest art gallery in the Southeast), lost its retired but still beloved bookshop dog, and started hatching plans for an expansion.

Like I said: not typical.

A little context for those of you who are new to Spellbound (and a little nostalgia for those who have been with us from the beginning)…

I started Spellbound Children’s Bookshop in 2004 because I thought that the Asheville area might appreciate (and, if I were very, very lucky, might even support) a small independent bookstore just for kids. One where the kids’ section is the entire store. One that is unmistakably all about books. I’ve often said that part of my inspiration for opening Spellbound was my experience years ago shopping for my niece and nephews in the children’s section of a large national chain bookstore. I wanted to share a book from my childhood that I had loved; I went past displays of toys based on movies and tv shows, then past books based on toys and movies and tv shows, then finally got to the small section of what I consider “real” books. This, I thought, is completely upside down. The real books should be the main course, not the small dinner mint at the end of the meal.

So, years after that experience, while looking for a way to integrate my small business experience, my experience (and love) of working with children, and hopefully a way to eke out a small living doing something that I actually cared about, I decided to take a huge gamble and open a bookstore. Just for kids.

On October 25, 2004 Spellbound flung open its door for the first time. (Metaphorically speaking, of course…that door was really too heavy for flinging about.) The location was 866 Haywood Road in the neighborhood of West Asheville. It was an adorable little house converted to commercial use, with an enclosed front porch, a fireplace, and lots of room for fun events. (Does anyone else remember the little brass bell that tinkled every time the door opened?)

Some highlights of our time on Haywood Road include visits from characters like Curious George, Winnie the Pooh, one of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things, and Mouse (of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fame). Not to be outdone, our human guests included Newbery Award winner Paul Fleischman, internationally bestselling author/illustrator Graeme Base, famed storyteller Bill Harley, Nick Bruel (of Bad Kitty fame), Asheville’s own poet and novelist extraordinaire Allan Wolf, and Asheville native Hope Larson for her very first book signing anywhere, promoting a book called Salamander Dream from a tiny indie publisher, long before she was landing contracts with the big guys like Simon & Schuster and MacMillan. (We are so happy, by the way, that she is joining us this year during our birthday month for a signing to promote her new graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.) We also celebrated the midnight releases of the last two Harry Potter books on Haywood Road with massive parties. Preparations for the release of the sixth book introduced me to someone who would over the years become a stalwart supporter of Spellbound as well as one of my very best friends. (See previous post.)

After a few years, during the terrible economic downslide known as the Great Recession, I decided to take a chance and move the bookstore downtown, where there would be more foot traffic (and less need to spend money on advertising). Go to where the people are, I thought. So Spellbound then took up residence at 19 Wall Street, nestled on a tiny avenue that looked like it belonged in Hogsmeade.

During our time on Wall Street, Spellbound shared our space with Alisha Silver Photography. It helped Spellbound afford the pricey downtown location, and also led to one of my most treasured friendships. On Wall Street we continued to host book characters and creators, story times, and the occasional big (daytime) release party, like our Percy Jackson party.

In fall of 2011, when it was time to consider whether or not to renew my lease on the Wall Street location, I thought long and hard about how the business had changed since being downtown. There had been definite perks, like suddenly being in the path of the throngs of tourists who flock to downtown Asheville each season. And for many of my grown-up customers who work in or near downtown, it was convenient for them to drop by during lunch or on the way home from work to grab that next book in the series of the day, or a birthday or holiday present.

However, to be perfectly honest, as many wonderful experiences as I have had meeting travelers from all over the country (and the world) in my bookstore these last few years, I really missed having local families as the majority of my business. I liked seeing the same faces every week or so, keeping up with what each kid in the family is reading now and recommending what they might be ready for next.

To make a long story short (or is it too late for that?), I decided not to renew my lease on the Wall Street location.  ZaPow’s owners, Matt and Lauren Johnson, had come to Spellbound to introduce themselves when they were  looking for a downtown space to open their gallery in 2011. We kept in touch, always saying that we had to find a way for the two businesses to work together somehow, what with our shared love of illustration. It’s good that we kept in touch. Not only have I made two very good friends (sensing a pattern here?), but when my Wall Street lease ended I was invited to join them in their space while I looked for a permanent location. In February of 2012, Spellbound downsized (temporarily) and moved in with ZaPow, the only illustration gallery in the Southeast, at 21 Battery Park Avenue.

I am currently working on plans to add a stand-alone Spellbound location outside of downtown, in addition to keeping our current spot with ZaPow as a permanent downtown satellite location.  In fact, at this point all signs are pointing toward West Asheville. Don’t you love it when things come full circle?

Of course, all of this will take both time and money to bring to fruition. The goal is to have both locations running by spring of 2013. As soon as there is news to report, you, Gentle Reader, will be the first to know.

So there you have Spellbound’s first eight years in a nutshell: where we have been and where we are (hopefully) going. Thanks for sticking with us these last eight years. Hopefully we’ll make it another eight and see you on our Sweet Sixteen.

Leslie Hawkins

Spellbound Children’s Bookshop

Published in: on October 4, 2012 at 10:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

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