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Profiles in Courage: Chats with independent bookstore owners, Part I

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I think it’s an incredibly exciting time to be in this space right now. I feel like I’m an entrepreneur in the Wild West in a way, on the frontier, because we’re seeing some really exciting things. We’ve built really strong ties with some local authors who are experimenting with self-publishing and promotion; we are working with established authors with new methods of promotion, whether that’s live streaming, video, using social media. In some ways technology allows us to enhance and enrich the community which already exists around the bookstore, so where there are opportunities to do that we’ve been actively experimenting and participating in that.

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Q. How do marriage and co-bookstore ownership go together?

A. People that know us describe us as a great team. We’re very complementary. Certainly we were workaholics before in our old life, but now we’re workaholics and we’re working on something that we’re very passionate about and enjoy working on together.

Q. How do you keep your staff happy?

A. We look for people that are passionate, excited about what we’re trying to do here. They also do a good job of keeping each other motivated. I don’t know how much of a role we as owners play in that. Having a great manager is part of that. We do a lot of fun things like celebrating birthdays and being aware of each other’s lives and being aware of each person that makes it feel like – it’s a little bit cliché – but that makes it feel like a family.

Q. What advice would you give to someone thinking of opening or buying an independent bookstore?

A. You should really do your homework. Talk to people in the community who already patronize that business. Talk to people who would patronize your business. Local authors. Talk to sales reps. Talk to distributor representatives. Really understand what you’re getting into. Because a lot of people have a dreamy notion of what running independent bookstore might look like and one of the paradoxical things is that you almost have less time to read than you did before. Think about all the things that need to happen and then triple that number and that’s how much you’re going to be struggling to get done.

Q. What’s the best thing about the job?

A. The best thing about owning an independent bookstore in San Francisco is being part of this community. I was a reader and in some ways I was sort of disconnected from the author. I was disconnected from other readers. And now I’ve found so many other interesting people. Praveen and I both like to say that we’re idea people, we’re driven by ideas. And by virtue of being a member of the community that surrounds an independent bookstore you find a lot of other like-minded people, literary-minded people that are interested in ideas, in literary experimentation, in the long written form.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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