Interview with an Indie Bookseller
Good friend, writer, beer aficionado, and blogger Llalan Fowler also happens to manage an independent bookstore in Mansfield, Ohio in her spare time. Llalan has devoted a great deal of energy and spark into revitalizing her store, Main Street Books, but also the local community. I did an interview with her to find out more about what running a local bookstore is like.
How did you come to Mansfield and Main Street Books?
When I first started managing MSB I ordered everything I thought people in my tiny Ohio town would read: Grisham, Evanovich, etc, but because I can’t afford to price new hardbacks at 30% off, they never sold. So I stopped ordering them. In fact, I stopped ordering pretty much any new hardbacks. (We special order all the time and most people don’t seem to mind waiting a day.) It’s a poor area of the country, and they’re unaffordable at list price. I also underestimated my customers. Instead of trying to be like the B&N Mansfield already has, I try to set us apart by ordering more new authors, small press books, and off-the-beaten-path titles. We regularly get complimented on our selection by bookish-types, but we have a lot of mass market paperbacks too–many come in used. We started taking in used books for trade credit last February, and because I have such smart, interesting, and weird loyal customers, we have a bunch of interesting, weird used books, too! We don’t sell a whole lot other than books–the store next door is a news stand, so no periodicals. We have greeting cards, journals, a few little gifty things and a few inexpensive games/toys.
We have a big local section. B&N doesn’t take self-published books, so pretty much any local writer that comes in with a decent-looking book will get a spot on my shelf. Louis Bromfield lived in this area of Ohio, too, so we have most of his titles. Plus other books about the area–not necessarily by a local writer–like about rust belt life or breweries and wineries of Ohio or the big state reformatory we have here (featured in Shawshank Redemption). Our beer and brewing section is especially complete, natch. Oh! And graphic novels. I love them, so we have more than I’ve seen at most bookstores.
I’ve always been one to share too much, haven’t I? I guess I just don’t think about it–I think my friends read it, those who’d already know the gist of what’s going on, but I don’t worry too much about it. It’s more for me to practice and work things out in my own head. There are one or two customers who make note of it, but for the most part I think it’s you and my dad that read it.
It definitely affected what role I see the bookstore playing in the arts community. When I moved here the store had a book club but there was no writing group in town that I knew of, and only a monthly open mic at the bar next door, which wasn’t well-suited for poetry reading. I knew that I wouldn’t keep up writing if I didn’t have the pressure of deadlines and others seemed to be interested in a workshop-type thing, so I started it and the monthly literary open mic. Both have been really fun and surprisingly successful. And now I write more and more often than I ever did in the big cities! (And probably better, to be honest…)
The first Poetry & Prose Extravaganza (the monthly literary open mics) was pretty fantastic. It was (so I’ve been told) the first such event of its kind in town, and our little book loft was PACKED. We read and drank wine for HOURS. But really, any of those where you get a collection of strong writers reading their own stuff…it can be electrifying. It has become an arena in which writers feel very comfortable (which is a difficult atmosphere to achieve and is important to note) and we get everything from well-rehearsed, searing spoken word to the first three unedited pages of a personal essay on marriage.
We are a nurturing nest for creativity and a haven for characters–both real and fictional.
What’s your favorite local indie bookstore? What do you love about it?