Friday, July 13, 2007

Part 1 in a series: The Brooklyn Bookstore of my Book Nerd Dreams

As an exercise in the process of writing my Brooklyn bookstore business plan, I dashed off a description of the ideal Brooklyn bookstore that exists in my head. It's a long one, so here's the first part. I'd love to hear what you think, and what your ideal bookstore would look like.

The Brooklyn Bookstore, Part 1
The bookstore has big windows in which new books are displayed face out, along with book posters and large signs about upcoming author events (e.g. Three Lives). Stenciling on the windows displays the old-fashioned but freshly designed logo (e.g. Jack's Coffee). The exterior is well-renovated and clean-cut but retains traditional Brooklyn architectural elements, as does the interior of the store. (Tin ceilings, molding, and antique-wood counters and shelving fixtures would be ideal, but I'll work with what I've got.)

Upon entering the door and passing through an open transitional space, customers first see a display of important new (and perennially selling) fiction and non-fiction, and the register and customer service desk (placed to the left, where Paco Underhill posits customers usually veer upon entering). Music is noticeable but not intrusive (slightly softer than Gorilla Coffee, but more rockin' than your average bookstore; employees will be allowed to load music onto the store iPod to ensure variety). Displays of staff picks, local authors, and various themes pull customers from table to table. The walls are lined with shelved books by section, with perpendicular additional shelving to separate alcoves (e.g. McNally Robinson). Tables and shelving fixtures are of honey or darker wood – not the bland, blond shelving of chain stores, or the verge-of-rot dark of some hole-in-the-wall indie bookstores, but a balanced, warm tone that subtly evokes the bookstore's position between tradition and innovation with a focus on warmth, relationships, and community. Signs, walls, and accents are in various shades of brick red and light blue, colors designed to create both calm and excitement. The store says "Brooklyn" everywhere you look.

On the wall shelves, books are alphabetized only from knee-height to arm-reach-height (approx. 1 ½ feet from the ground to perhaps 7 feet). Cupboard doors below this point hide overstock shelves. Above this height are placed old book posters, Brooklyn-related antiques or decorations, or even art by local artists. Shelving sections will be flowing and flexible, based on customer demands and new discoveries about how the store works best. Sections and tables may include, but are not limited to:

Brooklyn and New York – history, fiction, local authors
Criticism & Scholarship – lit crit, etc.
Fiction – classics, our favorites, important new stuff
Graphic Lit - comics and graphic novels, memoirs, and nonfiction
Mystery/thriller/pop fiction
Nonfiction – general, history, science…
On Consignment – self-published stuff (e.g. St. Mark’s)
Performing Arts – film, theater, etc.
Poetry – classics, favorite new stuff
Spanish language books
Staff Picks
Travel – guides, travel writing
Used books – or mix in sections?

There is a separate children's section in a corner, surrounded by shelving (with Young Adult and teen titles on the outside) to form a low wall with one entrance and exit (e.g. Good Yarns) to make it easier for parents to keep track of their charges. Display copies of books and toys are placed on low shelves, with copies for sale placed out of toddlers' reach. A low chair or two conducive to lap-reading is placed in the section, along with a rug or carpeting for crawlers and story times. A children's manager maintains this as almost a store within a store, but all employees are encouraged to read children's books and briefed often on good children's books to recommend, as a high percentage of children's book purchases come from recommendations. Children's book events take place in this space in the afternoons and on weekends, so it must be large enough to contain a small crowd.

The sales counter also includes shelves at reachable level with the categories "Train Reading" and "Miscellany", for impulse purchases and odds and ends. Behind the cashier is a chalkboard labeled "This Just In" and "Coming Soon", listing important books just received and those coming out in the next month or so (e.g. video stores, Other Music). There are also signs about our website, services, and some upcoming events at readable level behind the cashier, and flyers about programs and events placed at reachable levels for customers to pick up while waiting to pay or ask questions.

An information mini-desk (or two, depending on size and layout) in other parts of the store take the pressure off of the register for customer questions and other computer-related tasks. These each contain a computer at a high desk at which employees can sit on a tall stool to search for books, enter orders, work on staff picks or other ongoing projects, while remaining at eye-level to standing customers. All computers are loaded with Microsoft Office, point of sale software, fast internet connection, and InDesign and other programs, so that employees can efficiently work on projects while making themselves available to customers.

A small office space in the back of the store provides space for meetings with sales reps, private employee meetings, and receiving. Efforts are made to keep most of the activity of the store out on the sales floor rather than in the office, to maximize both selling space and interaction of employees with customers.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week. In the meantime, tell me what you think!