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.