Happy One-Year Anniversary!

Well, it’s been one year since we opened our doors to the public. The thing I distinctly remember was Ross pushing to open today and me still painting the two window boxes as the Downtown Partnership crew was walking through the door to see what we had created, camera in hand. I was still wearing my painting clothes, which doesn’t mean much because, after 90 days of renovating, literally all of our clothes had become painting clothes.

While this is a far stretch from what Ross and I imagined our 1-year anniversary would look like, we’re even more proud of what we built over the last year—and in particular—in spite of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order that hit in mid-March. There are many things we had planned (Find Waldo, author events, Children’s Book Week, book festivals) that have now been impacted by this awful virus, but I’d rather focus on all that we accomplished instead.

During the holidays, it felt like we were hitting our stride. Our book sales were pretty steady, although still unpredictable. We learned that what we anticipated that our Downtown customers would want (politics and current events) were not the most popular genre. The top-selling genre is general fiction, as opposed to non-fiction. While many bookstores around the country find success offering non-book items, we learned that you guys don’t want the sidelines so much. You’re hard-core readers, and that says a lot about Sacramento. We are the literary city that too many publishers think doesn’t exist in Sacramento. We’ll leverage this to our advantage in attracting big-name authors to our bookstore once we’re able to hold events again. We were also seeing interest in the cooperative events we were doing with the Crest Theater. Proof that our business plan will work.

We were fortunate that we had already invested in a robust website and Point of Sale system prior to opening last April. That positioned us nicely for the sort-of organized chaos that began in March. Our challenge was effectively operating with only half of our staff. For safety reasons, we furloughed all of them, leaving only Heidi and Ross to run things…while our business increased. It hasn’t been easy, but we keep tweaking things to make it run more efficiently. We’ll be bringing back all of our staff when it’s safe.

What this last year taught me—that I hadn’t anticipated—is how many customers would become friends. Not only have we learned many of your names and faces, but we remember when new babies were born or due dates, your children’s names, what types of books you enjoy, and where you work. It’s what I miss most during this shelter-in-place period.

We wanted to acknowledge our wonderful staff and volunteers—Tommy, Megan, Anara, Nicole, Erica, and Shae. It didn’t take COVID to make us realize how much we already appreciated them, but we sure do miss their faces (and help) around the store during the quarantine.

On the horizon for us:

We will survive this and be even stronger for it. Soon, we’ll begin the process of renovating the second floor to become what we’ve been promising clients for the past year: wine, beer, coffee and books. We’ll start with the books part and add the other stuff as we get licensing and permitting. The upstairs will expand on the Art Deco of the first floor, but add more of a Miami Beach flair to it. It’s going to be really fun up there with Flamingos (not real ones) and lively colors.

Once the shelter-in-place order lifts, we’ll continue to offer book delivery (with a small fee) and curbside pickup for those who don’t want to hassle with parking. But please don’t think of us as your Amazon alternative with these services. The whole point to a brick and mortar shop is for that human interaction. Please continue to come in as much as you can. It’s what makes our store special.

We also plan to host an anniversary party for those who supported us during the quarantine period (when it’s fully safe to gather). From the bottoms of our hearts, Ross and I can’t thank our customers enough for an amazing first year. When you come by, you’ll get to see our new sign that was installed on Tuesday. Now you’ll be able to find us even easier.

Here’s a look back on our past year.

Create Your Own Bookstore Valentine’s Day Event

Create Your Own Bookstore Valentine’s Day Event

Last night, we hosted such a fun event at our store, Capital Books, for Valentine’s Day. I knew that I wanted to create something different that gave both established couples and those just starting to date something to do besides going out to dinner — or in addition to that.

After a bit of Internet sleuthing, I stumbled upon an event that many bookstores were doing. What she created was a good jumping point for ours. After sharing our event last night over social media, I had several people asking me for the materials I created, so I decided to create this post to offer those materials and ideas to any other bookstores.

I’ll detail what we did and what the staff and I decided to do differently next year.

First, I heavily advertised this across our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages, in addition to our event calendar that sits on a tripod outside of our store and a sandwich board that sits just up the street. We are fortunate to have a healthy and loyal following over social meda, and we’ve trained them to watch those spaces for event announcements (even though they’re also listed on our website). I created an Eventbrite event page for it so I could keep track of the number of attendees so I would know how many scavenger hunt cards to print and how many snacks to make.

I crowdsourced questions for both established couples and new daters. Believe it or not, we had a fair number of new daters come to the event.

Our cash-wrap is near the door, so we had couples check in as they arrived. We handed them each their own appropriate scavenger hunt questions (instructing them to split up) and a pen (buy a pack of cheap pens). We gave them options of either gathering ALL the books first or designating finding a specific number, meeting up to discuss, then finishing. (Eleven books is a challenge to juggle, but some did choose this option.)

Protip: If you have the space, provide some small, empty tables for the couples to set their books and talk about them with each other. We were challenged for space, but our couples got creative with finding spaces to talk.

We chose to close our store for general shopping for this event. I was glad that we did, because we had a lot of couples in here. Having general shoppers would have been way too crowded. 

PROTIP: Hand out drink tickets if you’re being cost-conscious on the beverages you might be serving. We didn’t do this, but will next year.

Rather than have our guests try to return the books to the shelves themselves, we instructed them to place them on our rolling book cart. We had a staff of three or four of us constantly running the books back to their appropriate shelves, so others could potentially use those books. It’s a rather exhausting two hours of running around. Just be prepared that this is not a one-staffmember event. We had one person pouring beverages, one person ringing customers up. Then we had three dedicated to running books back.

This ended up being nearly a 2-hour event for the couples. Getting through eleven books and discussion took that long. We may consider doing less questions next year or telling the couples to select six of the eleven questions. I ended up having a lot of the question cards leftover that I’ll save for next year, but I’ll have to make up new questions for couples who return for round two. 

We got great feedback from the couples who attended about how they really enjoyed doing something different for Valentine’s Day.

Our book sales for that 2-hour period ended up being about $600, too. So that more than paid for the party and staffing. 

Here are some other general photos of the party that may inspire you to do your own.

It’s like moving twice a month

I realized it’s been many, many months since I blogged about our journey of opening, and now running, a bookstore. January will mark the one-year anniversary since we signed the lease. About this time last year, Ross and I were scouting locations to do this little venture of ours.

I used to think that I was an extrovert until we opened the bookstore. See, I’d never done retail in my life. Not even as a teenager. But, after nine months of running the bookstore now — and being the one who mostly is behind the counter — I find myself “communicated out” by the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong. I love chatting with customers who come by. But it’s exhausting to do all day long. By the time I get home, I just want to sit in a corner by myself and not talk. Or write. Obviously.

My husband recently said: “You don’t realize what’s coming.”

He was referring to the upcoming holiday shopping season. He’s a retail veteran, having run comic book stores for many years pre-me. I really had no idea, but took his word for it. We’re just now beginning to see an uptick in patrons, which is exciting. We’re ready for it. I spent several days decorating the store for the holidays. I decorated so much that I told my now-adult kids: “I’m not putting up Christmas at the house.” I just don’t have it in me.

The most surprising thing about running the bookstore — to me — has been that it feels like when you have to pack up your house, move, and unpack. We seem to do this every couple of weeks at the store. There’s a constant reorganization going on that’s pretty exhausting, yet exciting at the same time. I thought we’d be set for the holidays when I made our windows at the end of November. Well, I was wrong. Ross decided that it would be better to have books and games in the windows to entice people into the store. GAH! He was right. Again. So, last night, I transitioned the holiday decorations from both windows over to the blue table.

The bundled boxes aren’t selling either. Really bummed about that. Everything this first year is an experiment for us. I’m thinking this one is a fail.

What I’ve learned over the past year since starting renovation of the store is that I needed to carve out time for myself — the ever-popular term these days: self-care. I was pushing myself way too hard and needed more down-time. The trouble is that Lily the Bookstore Dog doesn’t understand “We’re not going to the bookstore today.” In fact, as I write this entry at home on a Sunday, she’s sitting by our front door grunting at us. She takes her job greeting customers seriously.

So, here’s to my very first holiday season of retail.