Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Part 2 in a series: The Brooklyn Bookstore of my Book Nerd Dreams

This is the second installation in the series I began last week, describing my vision for the bookstore I'd like to own in Brooklyn. I welcome your (constructive) criticism, praise, or additional ideas. Next week's installation will talk about sidelines, extra services, and behind-the-scenes stuff; this week is about the bar.

Around the corner, down the stairs, or next door to the bookstore, depending on the space, is the bar and café. The color scheme of the bookstore is maintained here, in slightly more intense shades, but the space is separate and can be entered without passing through the bookstore, though it is also accessible from the store. (Anti-theft gates at the street entrances of both the bar and the bookstore prevent theft of books through either exit, and signs inform customers that they will be asked to pay for any books that they may accidentally damage in the bar.) At a wooden bar, a barista serves coffee, tea, espresso drinks, and juices during the day; after 5:00, a variety of wines (and perhaps beers) are served by the glass or bottle. The baristas can make recommendations for wines from a rotating selection, with several standbys and new wines each month from a local wine shop partner. Sandwiches and snacks from local providers may be added later. All food and drink selections will emphasize local Brooklyn brands, fair trade, and natural ingredients wherever possible. The cafe will build on the excellent model of Vox Pop, but without minimizing the space for books.

A large table and several small tables, made of wood and metal, offer places for customers to sit and drink, read, or work. Free wi-fi is available throughout the cafe (the network password is provided with a food or drink purchase, as at McNally Robinson), and printing services are available for a fee. A bookcase of overstock or damaged books is available for reading in the café, each with a label with the bookstore's logo and "bar book" imprinted on it. The majority of the bookstore and café staff are interchangeable, though they will only have one task in a given shift; thus the café staff is knowledgeable about the books, and the bookstore staff knows what's going on in the café. A café manager – ideally someone with a passion for wine and coffee equal to the bookstore owner's passion for books – handles ordering, staffing, and maintenance in the café bar.

At the back of the bar/café area is a small stage, large enough for an author conversation or a small band (e.g. the stage in the Old First Fellowship Hall). The area in front of this space is left largely empty, except for a rolling table with books for upcoming events and tables along the sides. (Or, perhaps, rolling bookshelves with event books and sidelines which can be pushed to the wall for events.) On the stage is a sandwich board printed with "Tonight", and the evening's scheduled event chalked or posted below it. In the evening, the rolling table is moved to the side, and folding chairs fill the empty area. Those sitting at tables are able to hear the event if they wish, but they are not at the front and center of the audience (e.g. Bowery Poetry Club) – the setup is almost cabaret-style. Drinks can still be served and the business of the bookstore conducted during events.

Events are held nearly every night of the week, and range from readings by major authors, to discussions of local issues, to first-time and self-published author nights, to celebrations of holidays and festivals (the publication date of Leaves of Grass! the anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn!), to bands and other performers, with various ongoing series and lots of input from staff and customers. Whether it is a reading, panel discussion, conversation, musical performance, or other kind of event, each evening is sound-recorded and later added as a podcast to the bookstore website. Podcasts may eventually be collected on a CD for purchase. Event books are discounted for the day of the event only, and customers can ring up their purchases either at the bar or in the bookstore. Classes may be held in the event space during the day, and it will be available to rent for special occasions.

More to come.


Greg Albers said...

Nice. Like the Brooklyn drinks, snacks and entertainment. Random question, has anyone ever integrated a bar and bookstore, rather than having them connected but essentially separate spaces? You might not serve red wine in easy-to-topple stem glassware, and I'm sure there are permitting and insurance issues, but the atmosphere it might otherwise create sounds sort of casual and inviting.

Anonymous said...

Um, what exactly IS a Brooklyn drink? Gentrification and transplanted midwesterners looking for street-cred - on the rocks or straight up?

Or are you going the typical and over-done old-school route with exposed brick, tin ceilings and fake thrift store charm?

A stroller corral upfront for the undisciplined and SCREAMING self-entitled Brooklyn children and their illegal nannies? Bicycle parking for the hipsters that are trying desperately to finally get the coolness recognition they so clearly never got in high school?

Fair trade and organic (snake venom is organic too, you "lifestyle" morons, organic does not mean healthy)and cruelty-free must be highlighted at the bar, to soothe the liberal yuppie guilt your customers will carry into the store everyday. And they only like to talk about Iraq, so maybe a section called We Hate Bush, they will LOVE that. You can just fill it with Michael Moore books, forget anything with substance, they don't like it.

You need a section for the brownstone owners - How to Get Rid of the Non-White People In Your Neighborhood So Your Property Values Go Up - You Too Can Pay A Million Dollars For A Shitty Condo.

Ah, Brooklyn. Where everything is too small, too crowded, and too expensive.

Good luck. I think you are going to need it.

Book Nerd said...

Greg -- good question. I can't think of a bookstore that IS a bar -- though lots of bars that have books. I agree about the atmosphere, but I think the logistics would leave a lot to be desired. And part of the point of having the spaces separate would be to allow book business to continue to take place while an author or other event was making noise in the bar -- the shoppers and event-goers are likely to be too different crowds, and it would be nice to give them their space.

Book Nerd said...

Anonymous commentor -

The question of "what is Brooklyn?" is a fair one in general, and I'm hoping to write soon about what I mean by a Brooklyn bookstore.

However, your tone indicates that you are a troll, and I will not feel compelled to respond to your comments.

Anonymous said...

Oh, honey - we're sorry. We didn't mean to upset you. Our sarcasm is a bit much, we know.

You are not what we were making fun of - we love you! Just poking fun at our neighbors...the idea of US (not you) trying to satisfy their retail needs (we pictured ourselves in your shop) - it made us crazy.

Sorry again.

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umf_skibum said...

I actually discovered today that there is at least one bar/bookstore with a website - The Spotty Dog. Might be a great business to get in touch with as you make your bookstore a reality.