Spellbound: Behind the Stories

In last October’s anniversary post Eight Is Great, I gave you a brief  rundown of the history of Spellbound and its locations. In response to some questions I’ve fielded from customers, I’ve decided to write about what was left out of that post: why Spellbound stayed so downsized inside Zapow gallery for so long–from February 2012 to now.

At the time of that anniversary post, it was all too fresh for me to write about. I’m also a very private person, and I like to keep my personal life and business life separate. Unfortunately, sometimes that becomes impossible.

As discussed in this recent podcast interview, by the fall of 2011 I had decided not to renew Spellbound’s  lease at our Wall Street location downtown for a few reasons. For one thing, while we had gained a lot of business from tourists by moving downtown, many local customers expressed how challenging it was to get to Spellbound now that we were downtown, especially when shopping with small children. Most said they preferred Spellbound being in West Asheville–even those customers who don’t live or work in that neighborhood. For another thing, our rent at the Wall Street location was going to increase if we stayed and, though Wall Street is a lovely street, our store is so specialized that we weren’t getting enough foot traffic there to make me confident that Spellbound could afford rent any higher–especially since locals weren’t shopping with us as frequently there.

So I informed our landlords that we would not be renewing and began searching for a new home for Spellbound. I felt pretty strongly that we would probably end up back in West Asheville, where it all began. As the end of the year (and the end of our lease) drew near, however, no space had been located. I spoke with many friends and customers about wanting to make sure I didn’t rush into signing a lease on just any space—I wanted it to be the right space, and I wanted it to be the last time I had to move this bookstore. (I hate moving!)

One of the people I chatted with about this was Lauren Patton, who had just opened an art gallery called Zapow with her husband Matt Johnson. We had been talking for months about how we wanted our businesses to work together somehow, as the gallery was going to have a unique focus on illustration, and what goes together better than children’s books and illustration?

Lauren and Matt invited Spellbound to move into their gallery space. They had just opened and needed to fill space, and I needed a way to keep my store open without rushing into signing a long-term lease. I was offered the chance to take as little or as much space as I wanted for the bookstore, and I didn’t have to sign a long-term lease. Since it was about to be the dead of winter, when sales always drop off a cliff, I decided to just take a wee bit of space for a couple of months and we talked about a couple of different scenarios: Spellbound could expand to take up a lot of the Zapow space, perhaps with dividing walls between the two business or perhaps leaving it open; or perhaps it would be a temporary stop on the way to a new permanent home for the bookstore.

Sadly, only a month after downsizing and moving our inventory into Zapow’s space, my family was thrown into a crisis of the kind that many of you have probably experienced and can relate to. My mother got very ill very quickly, and was diagnosed with cancer. By the time it was caught, it had already spread from her lungs to her brain. Suddenly, she was in and out of the hospital every few days, was started on radiation therapy immediately…and my siblings and my father and I tried to make sure that at least one of us was with her all the time, wherever she was. Our hometown is Marion, about 30 miles east of Asheville. Sometimes she was in the hospital there, sometimes here.

Thanks to my arrangement with Matt and Lauren of Zapow, the three of us were now sharing customer service duties of both businesses, meaning that we could now have both businesses open seven days a week while we each got a little more time away from the cash register to work on all the other things that need to be done, as well as actually having some time off. Needless to say, this became very important as my mother’s disease progressed. Before the Zapow move, as the only full-time staff member of Spellbound I had to be at the store six days a week in order to keep it open (and therefore be able to pay both the business’s bills and my own). If I had still been in that situation when this crisis hit, I don’t know how I would have handled it. I certainly would not have been able to care for my mother as much or simply spend much time with her in what turned out to be her final months.

Understandably, I think, while all of this was going on, all thoughts of either expanding within the Zapow space or searching for a new location were just put on hold for several months. When things were settled down, I decided that the best thing for Spellbound would be to have its own stand-alone location outside of downtown again. And so the search for property began anew, and an Indiegogo campaign was launched to make sure that Spellbound could afford a really nice space and outfit it with good lighting, signage, etc., and bump our inventory up to pre-recession size and then some. (Campaign is live until May 15th, 2013–please visit today to see the great free gifts you can earn for contributions.) We also have changes planned that should allow Spellbound to add an assistant manager position before long, which will be an investment in the bookstore’s ability to provide more programming in the short term and in its ability to better weather another crisis even in a stand-alone space. Of course, none of the funds raised through the campaign will pay anyone’s salary directly, least of all mine. The expected jump-start in sales as well as the addition of room rentals and higher margin used books are what will fuel any job creation.

I know that for every person who actually asked me about our downsizing, there are probably several others who wondered “Hey, what’s the deal?” without actually asking. In light of the crowd funding campaign, in which I am asking people to contribute to Spellbound’s growth, I felt that I needed to be more transparent, as the saying goes, regarding our current location.

I’m sorry for the delay in returning to normal size (as opposed to our current Fun Size version), and I am so very grateful to the many people who have continued to be loyal Spellbound customers in each location. I hope that very soon you will be rewarded with the biggest, best version of Spellbound yet….and that this really will be the last time I ever have to move this bookstore!


Bookmark this Post: Creative Funding

HelenaCampaignBkmarksThese bookmarks were designed exclusively for Spellbound to help raise money for our campaign. They can be purchased for $3 at Spellbound or Zapow. Handmade by Zapow artist Helena Hannukainen, who donated her time and talent to help Spellbound grow.

You should stop by the Zapow/Spellbound complex at 21 Battery Park Avenue to check out the rest of Helena’s amazing work. She has originals and prints available of her paintings and line drawings.

And don’t forget to visit the Indiegogo campaign page at http://bit.ly/GrowBks before May 15th to help us grow into a bigger, better Spellbound.

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  

Under the Covers

For the past few days I’ve been participating in a discussion (via email) with several colleagues in the children’s bookselling world about how exactly certain marketing decisions are made at publishing houses. In particular, what is the decision process behind designing covers? 

The discussion was sparked by this announcement from Bloomsbury earlier in the week: 

“Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of Magic Under Glass. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake.  Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.” 

Original US Cover of Magic Under Glass

In what way, you may ask, is this cover offensive? Well, it features an image of the book’s heroine as a white girl with brown hair, when she is described in the book as having brown skin and black hair. According to this article in The Guardian, author Jaclyn Dolamore intended to be somewhat vague about Nimira’s ethnicity, but many readers, reviewers, and booksellers reacted negatively to this marketing choice, especially as it comes closely on the heels of a similar bruhaha surrounding another Bloomsbury title.

Last year Bloomsbury made a last-minute change to the cover of the young adult novel Liar,by Justine Larbalestier, due to an outpouring of protest by the bookselling community. The advance reading copies, the not ready for prime time preview copies sent out to reviewers and bookstore buyers months ahead of publication, featured (guess what) a photograph of a white girl who was supposed to represent the black female lead character. There was such an uproar online and elsewhere that Bloomsbury decided to change the cover, at not unconsiderable cost. 

This trend is not at all unique to Bloomsbury, of course. People have been complaining for years about the industry-wide “whitewashing” of children’s book covers. There seems to be some deeply ingrained belief in many publishing houses that having a person of color on the cover of a book automatically limits its appeal. Now, it’s true that I have shaken my head in dismay many times at parents or grandparents who dismiss my suggestion of a book featuring a non-white character on the grounds that their child “wouldn’t identify” with the book. Of course, these are often the same ones who won’t buy a book with a character named Lilly (with 2 Ls) if their child or grandchild is named Lily (with 1 L), so…. 

I think the underlying assumption (that white kids only want to read about white kids) is an insulting underestimation of  kids, who are growing up with more images of (and experience of) ethnic diversity than any generation before them. My goodness, can you imagine if the assumption was that kids of color will only pick up books about other kids of color? They would certainly, sadly, be very limited in their choices of reading material, wouldn’t they? (A discussion for another day, regarding actual content.)

I would bet my last nickel that the vast majority of kids today couldn’t care less what color the character on the cover is, as long as the cover intrigues them and looks like something interesting that they want to pick up. And, following that train of thought, my discussion with fellow booksellers (and now with you, dear readers) turned to the choice to market books as “girl books” and “boy books,” as evidenced by the book cover choices. [To be continued in Part Two.]

Published in: on January 23, 2010 at 1:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Snowbound No More!

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Readers in the Asheville area know exactly what I’m talking about: the foot (or more, depending on your exact location) of snow and the subsequent massive power outage that put a serious damper on the weekend. For anyone who needed to do last-minute holiday shopping (or was counting on others getting out and doing last-minute holiday shopping) or anyone who likes warm food and hot showers, it was, in the words of  my young neighbor, “SO not cool!”

Of course, the bookshop dog would disagree. He thought it was nothing but cool. He’s half Husky, which makes him think he’s a sled dog.


And what were Seymour and I reading as we huddled together by candlelight?

If you’re a fan of Richard Peck’s previous books featuring Grandma Dowdel, A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, you must read A Season of Gifts, new this fall. It’s a stand-alone novel (you don’t need to be familiar with the previous books to follow and appreciate this one) that takes place many years later, in 1958. A new family has moved in next door to Mrs. Dowdel and quickly finds out that while she “doesn’t neighbor,” she is very generous in her way.

In the tradition of Lemony Snicket and Pseudonymous Bosch,  Dr. Cuthbert Soup has a Whole ‘Nother Story for middle graders everywhere…. Hits the shelves in January 2010.

Dr. Cheeseman is a scientist racing to perfect his time machine as he and his three kids race around the country trying to outrun the government agents and corporate goons who are hot on their trail.

Not suggested for readers with an aversion to hairless psychic dogs, talking sock puppets, or puns.

Published in: on December 22, 2009 at 6:29 pm  Comments (1)  

Is This Just Fantasy?

I won’t even pretend that this has anything to do with books, but if by chance you haven’t seen this yet, here are The Muppets doing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

’nuff said?

Published in: on November 28, 2009 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Things You Have to Read

Do you sometimes come across a line in a book that makes you instantly reach for something to write it down with? The other night I came across this toward the end of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me:

Trying to forget doesn’t really work. In fact, it’s pretty much the same as remembering. But I tried to forget anyway, and to ignore the fact that I was remembering you all the time.

Miranda is in sixth grade in NYC in the late 1970s. Her best friend Sal suddenly drops her, for reasons she doesn’t understand, and she starts finding mysterious little notes in her belongings…notes from someone she doesn’t know, but who seems to know her and claims to be trying to get to her to save her friend–and himself.

A wonderful stand-alone novel that takes place in the real world, When You Reach Me is at once an homage to Miranda’s favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, and a wholly original story that works well on two levels. First, there’s the absorbing mystery of who could be leaving Miranda these notes and how does he know so much about her–sometimes predicting things that haven’t even happened yet. Then there’s the progression of her everyday life through the school year, as she tries to recover from Sal’s rejection, makes new friends (and odd acquaintances), and has some simple but profound realizations about herself and the people around her.

The author does a wonderful job of choosing period details that firmly root the story in its time and place, triggering nostalgia for adults but not at all going over the heads of young readers. As a “latch-key kid” Miranda spends a lot of time alone and is more independent than most kids today; her neighborhood, especially the loop from her apartment building past the corner store and the garage to her school, is practically another character; her mom spends much of her free time practicing for the “$20,000 Pyramid,” which she’s sure she will win and make life much easier for herself and her daughter. Most of the chapters are named in the style of categories on the game show, like “Things That Burn,” “Things You Hold on To,” and “Things You Forget.”

My first impulse after finishing this novel was to go back and read it again from the beginning and then re-read my copy of A Wrinkle in Time for the umpteenth time. Suggested for ages 9 to 14, this is a book that will resonate with most readers whether or not they’re familiar with A Wrinkle in Time. But if they aren’t, they will want to be after reading When You Reach Me.

A Bad Kitty and a Kid Named Melvin

At long last, here are pictures from the November 7 Nick Bruel visit. For those of you who couldn’t make it, you missed a really great time. But don’t despair–we have a bunch of signed copies available. An autographed book makes an extra special present!

Nick started by showing off his brand new trophy for the NC Picture Book of the Year Award. (Alas, I didn’t get a good picture of it, but it’s very large and shaped like the state of North Carolina!)


Then he read Who Is Melvin Bubble?, the book that won him that illustrious award.

It’s a fabulous book for anyone to read with a group, but having the actual author do all the voices makes it a real treat!

Raven meets Nick Bruel 009Next, using enlarged copies of illustrations so everyone could see the action in this smaller format book, Nick read his newest book, Happy Birthday, Bad Kitty. Chock full of zany characters, witty asides, hairballs and, of course, Uncle Murray… it was a big hit!

Before heading to the official book signing table, Nick fielded questions from the audience. One of my personal favorite moments: a youngster asked if Bad Kitty was a boy or a girl cat (a girl, by the way), and then asked Nick how he knew that. With only a moment’s hesitation, the author provided a seemingly satisfactory answer.

Nick Bruel 2009 004

We also learned that a new Bad Kitty book is in the works, this time with even more Uncle Murray! We’re hopeful that we can persuade Nick to come back to Spellbound when the new book is out.


Thanks to everyone who turned out–and shared pictures!

Raven meets Nick Bruel 013

Published in: on November 13, 2009 at 7:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Happy Halloween

It’s almost the witching hour, a phrase that here means 6pm, when Spellbound closes on All Hallows’ Eve and the Halloween books get marked down! As a special treat for you, our loyal blog reader(s), here is a preview of some books that are about to be put on the sale table:

Boo to You by Lois Ehlert

Moonlight the Halloween Cat by Cynthia Rylant

Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex

Runaway Mummy by Michael Rex (no relation to Adam, as far as I know)

Published in: on October 31, 2009 at 5:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Happy (Official) Birthday to Us

Well, we’ve been celebrating all month, but tomorrow (Sunday October 25) is our very officially official fifth anniversary of being in business. I’m writing this post today because I have a feeling I won’t have time to write tomorrow…at least I hope not! I’ll add pictures from our big day to this post at a later time.

Just a reminder that Sunday will be:

Our special Halloween story time at 1:00. Costumes welcome! (A few costumed ghoulies showed up a day early–hope they can come back tomorrow!)

The last day to register to win a free copy of School of Fear, complete with a set of pencils and reading group guides!

The first day of 25% off storewide! (Applies to all in-stock merchandise except the vintage collectibles and items already marked down and put on the sale table–and those are usally 40-50% off retail!)

Free cupcakes all day! (Thanks to Sheila, the Other Book Witch!)

Okay, as promised…some pictures:






Published in: on October 25, 2009 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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