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!

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New This Spring: The Bookworm Club

The Spellbound Bookworm Club is a book-of-the-month club that we’ll be launching in the spring. The perfect gift that keeps on giving… each month your child or teen will receive a book personally selected for him or her by Spellbound staff. It will arrive, gift-wrapped, with a card from you.

Subscriptions are available for either hardcover, paperback, or board books and with 6-month and 12-month options.

Details about the Spellbound Bookworm Book-of-the month club:

  • Each enrollment will begin with a questionnaire to find out more about our new member for future selections and an announcement card describing the book club to the new member and acknowledging the gift giver. Of course, a self-addressed, postage paid envelope is included to return the questionnaire to Spellbound.
  • Each selection arrives gift-wrapped and with a gift tag reminding the member who (you!) sent this wonderful gift.
  • Each delivery includes a postage-paid reply card to keep in touch and let us know the member’s opinion of the book. It will help us make better selections for that member and is also a chance for the member’s review to be published in our newsletter.
  • Each enrollment includes subscription to our quarterly Bookworm Club newsletter filled with book trivia, activities, and members’ reviews of the books they are reading.
  • We custom-select a book for each child—one that matches the child’s stated interests and reading level.
  • The child receives presents in the mail throughout the year!
  • We include a postage-paid reply card with each selection. Members can use the card to review the book they just received, make a special request, let us know they’re moving or just say “hi.”
  • If a family wants to return a selection for any reason, they just send the book back to us and we will arrange for a refund for that book, credit to your account or an exchange. (The book must be in brand-new, unread condition and we must be contacted within 2 business days of receiving the unwanted book.)
  • We’re always available to talk to families about their children’s reading.

A perfect gift for:

Children

Grandparents

Teachers

Adults who love books for kids & teens

The bookworm in your life!

Membership Options (Introductory Pricing)

Prices include shipping and handling. Tax will be added.

Hardcover Edition for 12 months $250.00

Hardcover Edition for 6 months $125.00

Paperback Edition for 12 months $140.00

Paperback Edition for 6 months $70.00

Board Book Edition (perfect for babies & toddlers!) for 12 months $140.00

Board Book Edition (perfect for babies & toddlers!) 6 months $70.00

Another option: HOLIDAY BOOK OF THE MONTH

You select 5 holidays + the recipient’s birthday month for a customized selection of 6 books to be delivered throughout the year. $125 Hardcover Edition / $70 Paperback or Board Book Edition

Please Note:
For contributions to our crowdfunding campaign at the $250 level and above, you get a free subscription for the new Spellbound Bookworm Club, in addition to other free goodies. Please visit http://igg.me/at/spellbound/x/2170700 before May 15th, 2013 to learn more and claim this fabulous free gift!

Launch Day!

Today is the official launch of Spellbound’s crowd funding campaign on IndieGogo. Please visit the campaign home page at http://bit.ly/GrowBks to watch a super cute video starring some of our young customers, read more about our plans to expand space, inventory, and programming, and to learn about all the cool, free gifts we can send you in thanks for contributing.

SpellboundVisionSketchSmall (2)Here is a sketch by architect Liz Dion illustrating what we envision for the new store space, including a separate event room that can be closed off for private birthday parties, baby showers, workshops, and more. When not in use for events, this room will house the large inventory of used and bargain books we plan to add, as well as lots of comfy seating.

Our funding goal is $18,500 by May 15th, 2013. Any size contribution is helpful, especially if you share with your friends and community that you have contributed and ask them to consider contributing as well. Spreading the word is one of the easiest ways to help… lots and lots of small contributions are just as good as a handful of large ones. Better, even…it shows how much support there is out there for locally owned independent bookstores that support local communities economically and culturally.

Our goal is to raise enough funding to cover the moving costs so that we can expand into a larger, stand-alone space with more room for events and more great books for kids of all ages. We are also responding to overwhelming customer feedback since our move downtown: you want Spellbound back in location that is easier to get to when shopping with your kids and that has free parking that is easier to find. We are focusing our search on the West Asheville neighborhood, extremely convenient to shoppers from all over the area and yet with less traffic and easier parking than downtown.

Thanks to everyone who has already contributed on Day One, and please help us spread the word for the next 44 days!

Tell the Lady What You Like

I just came across this great article from The Horn Book, one of my favorite resources for parents, teachers, librarians, or anyone who appreciates children’s books. I had to share it.

Written in 1997 by Terri Schmitz of The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, Massachusetts, this article has timeless and sage advice for parents navigating the bookstore with (or for) their kids.

Weary of Winter? So Is Brownie Groundhog!

One of my favorite new picture books in this very new year is Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox, with text by Susan Blackaby and illustrations by Carmen Segovia.

When Brownie wakes up and goes outside on the second day of February, she is dismayed to see her shadow stretching across the field.

Brownie stomps her foot. “Phooey!” she says. “Six more weeks of winter!”

Brownie is impatient for Spring to get here, and she uses her impatience plus some quick thinking to distract the little fox who has targeted Brownie as his next meal.

“Don’t be silly,” she says when the fox announces he’s planning to eat her for breakfast. “You’re too late for breakfast.”

When the fox proposes eating her for lunch, she proclaims that it’s too early and that he’ll just have to wait. And so goes the rest of the day, as the fox tags along with Brownie and waits for it to be a proper mealtime. After spending so much time together, of course the two eventually become friends.

Both the text and the illustrations are that perfect combination of timeless and fresh, and kudos to the book designer–everything from the font to the choice of paper comes together perfectly to complement the words and pictures. Although the title lends itself to a Groundhog Day display, Brownie’s shadow is just mentioned at the beginning of this charming story. Part trickster tale and part odd couple friendship tale, this is a sweet and funny book that kids will enjoy coming back to all winter (and all year) long.

 

Published in: on January 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Raising Kane [Chronicles]

Okay, it’s official. The Percy Jackson party in February was a big hit, so now Spellbound is hosting a release party for Kane Chronicles Book One: The Red Pyramid, the first book in a new series from Percy author Rick Riordan. The book releases on Tuesday May 4th, so it will be an after school affair. More detailed plans will be posted on the website and in our newsletter as they develop. And yes, we are still giving a 20% discount on pre-orders, through the end of March. With a free Percy Jackson pen that lights up (sometimes, if you’re nice to it) while supplies last! 

Admission to the Kane Chronicles party will be free with purchase of the book  or $5 at the door. 

Oh zephyr winds which blow on high, lift me now so I can fly!

Of course, one highlight of the Percy Jackson party was the Greek mythology bee and, although it may change by the time the Kane Chronicles is in full swing, I’m betting most kids don’t know as much about Egyptian mythology as they do about Greek. My personal exposure to Egyptian mythology as a kid was pretty much limited to watching “Isis” on television Saturday mornings. 

So this party may involve more learning games than knowledge contests. Stay tuned for more info!

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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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!)

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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.

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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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