Another Year Older, A New One Has Begun

Chris here!

Greetings independent bookstore addicts, downtown New London visionaries, and meddlesome prying e-peepers. Thank you for your support the past 14 months! Monte Cristo Bookshop has now been open for a full calendar year. What a year it has been. Lessons learned and lessons learned.

First, it is really difficult to sell books. We talk books. We write about books for review publications. We interview authors. We host author events. We donate books. We are all over the internet. Our events get publicity. We have bumper stickers. We do what it takes to get customers into the door.

Second, we sell many books…so I guess all of that work pays off, right? Well, sort of. We have many obligations as a business including rent, utilities, taxes, inventory expense, blazzy-blah. It leaves us left with scraps. We didn’t start a bookstore to make a million dollars after all. To make it on our shoestring budget, to make it 14 months? That’s a real accomplishment we are proud of.

In addition to having a new baby being born to Gina and I in June, 2013 was full of bookstore memories for me. Let’s do a recap.

Moving the store: In June, we moved the entire operation two blocks from our Washington Street location to 38 Green Street. If you had seen the piano we moved down the middle of State Street you would have seen it being pushed by 5 young guys in broad daylight. When we got a greenlight in front of city hall it was hi-fives. A personal favorite memory of mine. Thank you to Jake, Pat, Jason, and other volunteers. We moved the whole shabang in 5 days and in ten days we were a functioning store again. We did very little asking for volunteers. Some people actually felt “out of the loop” because we didn’t ask them?! Let me explain something to clear this up. When we started this adventure we had donations in our fundraiser from the community. We swore that we would never, ever, ask for the public’s assistance again. Our biggest critics during the fundraiser called us out that we had no idea how to run a store and that a bookstore would never work without further donations. Well so far, they are wrong. We want to keep it that way. No further donations of money nor labor. Used book donations on the other hand, heck yeah bring em on!

Meeting incredible authors: There are authors that we meet, and then there are authors that become integral to our operations. We have built personal relationships with many authors that go far beyond a simple book signing-thanks for the check-see ya. Suzanne Palmieri, Barbara Shapiro, Constant Waterman, Allegra di Bonaventura, Gerri Brousseau, Marian Lanouette, Thurman P Banks Jr, James N. Littlefield, Mark Nelson O’Brien, Frances Gilbert, The Kildays, Anna Westbrook. The list goes on and on. We cannot thank them enough for their support but also for their friendship.

Fish Tales, Tugs and Sails Festival: A hot day under the tents. We brought thousands of books onto the Custom House Pier and worked with great childrens authors. Sales were incredible this day and we had a wonderful time. People told us they had never seen so many books at a festival. Funny thing is, I had to explain we weren’t some travelling gypsy booksellers and that we were an actual downtown bookstore.

Schooner Fest: Another Festival! We packed thousands of books under a 20×20 tent on City Pier back in September during the festival. With 9 authors giving readings and interviews throughout the day. Giant tall ships surrounding us. An incredible record in sales. It couldn’t have been any nicer for weather. Allegra di Bonaventura was giving a talk on her history books when, of all things, we were interrupted by revolutionary war re-enactors! A cannon then went off.

Colchester Pumpkins and Pooches Fall Dog Festival: Dogs, dogs, rain, dogs. Author Richard Okun did a booksigning underneath the outside tent, this time in Colchester CT. It was rainy. Like a wet dog. The Lions Club of Colchester ran the event flawlessly. This was the day after Tom Clancy died and wouldn’t you know that we sold many more Clancy titles than actual dog titles. It happens…

Kiwanis Christmas Party: This was probably the highlight of my year. Kiwanis club throw an annual party for ~20 underprivileged kids. They have lunch, shower them with gifts and do a Santa Clause line. I thought, why are they buying these gifts from Amazon and big box stores when those stores don’t do anything else to help? So I decided to make their purchase from Monte Cristo extra special by bringing in the author of “The Cookie Thief”, Frances Gilbert, to read to the kids and sign books at the event. It was like magic. It reminded me of something that had happened during my childhood but that’s for another blog…

Horizon Wings presents: OWLS. This event was really cool. Four live owls were brought into the store courtesy of Horizon Wings raptor rehabilitation clinic. The store was packed!

Thank you thank you thank you thank you all~~ here’s to 14 more months!

And here’s an article in Publishers Weekly where I was quoted.

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Rollercoaster Bookstore Drop into the Holidays

Welcome to Monte Cristo Bookshop! New, used, local, national. We try to have something for everybody.

Dear readers,

Have you still not made it out to an event at our shop? No time like the present. These are fun, laid back affairs. Intellectual. Sometimes humorous. Imagine being at a taping of a Ted Talk or the Tonight Show. Mash the two together with a few dumb jokes from me…and you get a really good time. All the events are free. They cover a wide variety of topics. Something for everybody. There is never pressure to buy a book. Most of them have free wine and cheese. Basically your loss. Don’t know who the author is? Well, the point is not to pander to fans (which is awesome) but to make new fans. HECK YEAH!

We apologize that our calendar on this website is tweaky from time to time. We are a small business and we cannot afford the fancy websites of the giant stores BUT all of our events are listed on our Facebook page as well as numerous online community calendars. FACEBOOK.

So… We had an incredible Black Friday Weekend. It was capped by a visit from Horizon Wings. Owls. Four large birds were brought in for an education presentation. They were so beautiful!

Our owner Chris had reviews published in Sound & Country Magazine, a magazine published by The Day that features things to do in the area.

We have lost track of the non-profits we donate money, authors, books, and time to. This community is full of so many people that care and we are grateful to be here.

NANOWRIMO (NationalNovelWritingMonth) was a success. We had free coffee, pizza, wifi parties. Good times, good times, until next year! Thank you to the local Nano liaison Chelsea!

Our store layout has been completely re-arranged (surprise, surprise OCD me)
which brings us to… business owner tip:

Be unique. We took a serious look at our competitor bookstores both chains and indies, new and used. Some have a gift-shop feel to them like being in a Hallmark store. Others seemed very corporate and sterile, like the waiting room of a doctor’s office. When we came back to our store we were struck instantly by it’s wood floors, tin ceiling, low shelving, and low lighting. Our shop looked like a work study in somebody’s private house. We decided to go with the idea. We picked up rugs, chairs, and dining room tables. We accented with lamps, decor, and plenty of plants. When you come into the shop you are embraced by a blast of warm air, the smell of gingerbread, and a view of wooden bookshelves. There are seating areas both high and low for meetings to take place.

Warmth.

Welcome home readers.

Cheers,
Chris

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Embracing the Change: Sea of Books

Greetings book lovers, internet surfers, and those checking our website for no real good reason except to be nosy.

I am currently reading “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel. Uhh-mazing!

Baby Evan is two months old now. He’s nearing 13 lbs. Now he smiles quite often and makes eye contact from across the room. He hasn’t rolled over yet but he can bat at things with his fists. He is beginning to sleep long hours through the night (YAY). The bath is his favorite place, it’s like hypnosis. His entire existence thus far has been terribly cute.

EVENT NEWS:
Schooner Festival preparations! We will have 9 authors appearing on the pier under The Author’s Tent. Bob Steele, Jane Green, Suzanne Palmieri, Allegra di Bonaventura, Ron Laone, Chris Gay, Susan Epstein, Mark Nelson O’Brien, and Lisa Saunders. There will be chairs and a PA system. We will be behind the train station on the City Pier plaza. Bestselling Novelist Suzanne Palmieri and her daughter will be totally helping us out!

Our fall calendar has come to life. We have some fascinating people visiting our shop for book signings. When you think about it, book signings are one of the largest ways an independent bookstore competes with the internet and most chain stores. Amazon has never once hosted a book signing. You’ll never meet your favorite author through Amazon. Of course your Kindle with Stephen King’s signature on it won’t fetch much on eBay. How boring right?

Working in the music world I learned a concept called “over-saturation”. With author events, genre saturation is an issue. It makes for low interest of low turnout. From a typical bookstore’s point of view authors are a dime a dozen, but for us we know they are special. They populate our shelves, and the least we could do would be to help them move books more efficiently. Every month we have a wide variety. Mystery, spirituality, horror, young adult, history…all spread out because they attract different people. We also make sure that authors with less experience in front of a crowd are comfortable. Using a talk-show type format mixed with reading and Q&A, we have found a niche all of our own. We stay on focus and on topic of the book, allowing the discussions to get sometimes real grim and sometimes chipper, but the attendees love it. Quality over quantity. I’m considering using our presidential seal counter as a sort of wide podium. I have to study Larry King for good interview techniques.

NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS
Our new location has been a hit with the customers. Wide aisles, lovely ceiling, big windows. As I sit here almost every day I find myself occasionally ignoring work and chatting with customers (90% me talking…) We discuss everything, but mostly two topics. New London and the publishing industry. Since most of our customers are from outside of New London, most of them ask me what it’s like owning a business in the city.

It is true I am a person of strong opinions. One of my opinions is to be a good neighbor and watch out for your fellow man. Do what you must, harm none. Why can’t we all just get along? I get along well with every person I have come across downtown. Some business owners and organizers can be quite cranky at first and take time to get to warming up (of if you become of some use to them) but everybody seems to have a heart down here. A fiery passion that most genuinely care about the city and want to see what is best for everybody. We keep our noses out of politics and it keeps its nose out of our business. Seems a fair trade to me.

There was a fire on our block. I had just eaten my take-out breakfast from Monica’s State Street Diner when I noticed plumes of dark black smoke coming out of the building. Soon enough, emergency vehicles blocked the streets and the entire block was roped off. The cause of the fire was unknown but luckily nobody was seriously injured. (some firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and heat exposure)

A black kitty has been spotted walking around the parking lot. I let it come inside and upon further inspection found her to be quite healthy, as if an indoor cat would be. Has she been made homeless by the fire? Asking around the block, our neighbors say they feed her. A stray animal will not make it long downtown. Every night around 6pm when we close she shows up rubbing against the glass door. A sucker I am. I give her a quarter can of cat food each night.

INDUSTRY NEWS

*Two movies in the theaters currently. These books are very popular with our customers and we are seeing a huge increase in sales since the movie release dates.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

*The reports from the first six months of nationwide booksales have shown growth in the print book trade while ebook growth has flattened out. Print books have yet to experience a year of decline in sales. 2012 was a 4% increase from the prior year. People are still reading!

*Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games series, has release an illustrated children’s book titled Year of the Jungle.

*The country’s oldest LGBT bookshop is looking for buyers because the owners want to retire. Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia is 3,000 sq feet with over 50,000 titles.

Cool. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Happy Readin’
-Chris

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We have moved to 38 Green Street!

Hello fine readers,

All the things that have happened…

I don’t update this blog nearly as much as I should and I offer one thousand apologies. (sorry, sorry, sorry, x1000) We have moved the entire shop, after a complete month of preparations and packing. It took about 25 Uhaul trips in the van and 600 boxes. Gina and I also had our baby during this time. During a book event with national author Kathy Ebel on June 22, we had to rush to the hospital. He was born the very next morning. A couple days later the move began. Sleep? What’s that? We made the decisions to stop doing special orders, and cancel several events including Tessa Afshar, Karen White and Sydney Sherman. We are hoping they will understand and reschedule with us. The special order system is working again.

We opened our doors at the new location July 12.

Our new location at 38 Green Street offers several advantages.
*Bigger parking lot for our exclusive use.
*Beautiful brand new wooden flooring, new lighting, and finished tin ceilings.
*More room for backstock, floor space, and a dedicated event area.
*Giant seven foot glass windows that cover the entire facade of the store on two streets.

On July 27 we had a bookstore tent on the pier for Fish Tales, Tugs and Sails, a children’s maritime and literature event. Our authors featured were Anna Westbrook, Janet Lawler, and Mollie Wilson.

On July 28 our local paper, The New London Day, (or is it just The Day? -ed.) published a column by David Collins called “New London’s Bookstore is Bigger and Better”

And in book news;

Dan Brown, Khaled Hosseini, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King are dominating our new book sales.

The American Booksellers Association, New England Booksellers Association, and National Federation of Independent Businesses slammed Barack Obama’s visit to an Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga TN, citing his “job creators” as job killers and downtown destroyers.

J.K. Rowling was discovered to have written a book under a pseudonym. The crime novel is titled The Cuckoo’s Calling by “author” Robert Galbraith. After selling 450 million Harry Potter books and her follow up The Casual Vacancy being considered a dud, is it any wonder she wanted anonymity? First Edition print runs of The Cuckoo’s Calling sold out the day the news broke. Of course the industry is placing the book under intense scrutiny and it may not be a dud after all. Can she break free of the Gryffindor gates?

The Near Future of Monte Cristo Bookshop:

Our fall event calendar is coming together nicely. We will be appearing on the pier for two festivals, Schooner Fest and Halloween Town.

We will be doing a late summer marketing push throughout Southeastern CT with flyers, advertising, and social networking. We appreciate all of the help our most loyal core customers have been giving us in the word of mouth.

Last but not least, Nia Taylor will join our staff this fall as a communications intern. Yes!

Read on,
-Chris

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