Interview With A Novel Idea Book Store Owners

Established in 2018, A Novel Idea, is a community-minded bookstore and event space in the Passyunk section of Philadelphia, PA. Everything from paperbacks to board games to candles can be found on the floors of this eclectic book haven.

The owners, Alexander Schneider and Christina Rosso-Schneider, are friendly, knowledgeable, and ready to help you find your way through their labyrinth of books and other specialty merchandise.

As they seek to represent their community, the couple welcomes suggestions from everyone who visits the store. They want their shelves to reflect the interests of all their patrons.

An author in her own right, Christina, also wants the bookstore to be a hub where local authors, artisans and readers can connect. Each month, the shop offers a calendar of diverse and innovative events that is sure to please a variety of interests.

The store is open from 11am to 7pm Wednesday through Saturday, 11am to 5pm on Sundays and 3pm to 7pm Tuesdays.

Now that I’ve introduced you to Alex and Christina, let’s get to know a little more about them and A Novel Idea.

Hello, Alex and Christina, welcome to Angel Kiss Publications. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview.

Thank you for having us.

What motivated you to open an Independent Book Store?

The idea for the bookstore grew out of frustration of where we both were with our jobs.

Christina was an adjunct writing professor at three universities in the Greater Philadelphia area, and Alex was working as a freelance graphic designer and Twitch affiliate.

We felt underappreciated, underpaid, and exhausted. We also were fighting to get time together!

One night Alexander suggested we open a bookstore in jest, and the more we thought about it, the more we realized it could be a great opportunity to do something together and give our neighborhood a type of retail it’s been missing.

Christina always dreamed of owning and working in a bookstore, and we thought it was the perfect way to blend our passions and talents.

Photo courtesy of: Alex and Christina Schneider

Can you tell us a little about A Novel Idea?

A Novel Idea is a community-minded bookstore and event space with a focus on local authors and artisans. We host several events weekly, from open mics to author readings to book clubs and story times. We even have workshops.

Our focus is local, so we have a large section featuring books published in Philadelphia or written by Philadelphia-based writers. We have artwork on the walls by local artists and carry handmade goods by local artists. (Author request form.)

What’s involved with running an independent book store?

Long hours and a ton of reading! Right now, the two of us are the only employees at A Novel Idea. We’re open six days a week, with events sometimes as often as every night!

So we both put it over 40 hours a week physically at the shop, greeting customers, stocking the shelves, ordering inventory, social media, booking, managing, and running events, etc.

Alex also does all of our branding for the store, so often when he’s not at the shop, he’s working on a graphic for an upcoming event or workshop.

We also have to keep up to date with soon to be released titles or upcoming adaptations of books. Together we read about a dozen books a month so we are as up to date as possible.

Photo courtesy of: A Novel Idea

Is competition with online retailers difficult?

We don’t consider it to be a competition because we know we can never compete with online retailers. We are offering a different experience, one of one-on-one attention and book suggestions.

We take dozens of special orders each week, which luckily we’re able to fulfill pretty quickly (anywhere from a few days to a week usually). We have many customers who say, “I want to support a local business,” and are okay with waiting a few days to get the title they’re looking for.

How do small book stores compete with Amazon and Barnes & Noble?

People are getting nostalgic for spaces where you can actually talk to people and physically touch books. Because, sure you could do that at Barnes and Noble and there’s nothing wrong with Barnes and Noble, but that’s not a personal feel.

And then there’s Amazon, of course. We think people are starting to say, “I’m tired of always being on my phone and always having a screen in front of me and not actually interacting with people.”

And since it’s literally just the two of us working the store people will get to know us and what our backgrounds are and what our interests are. Then, we hope, through that, we’ll learn about their backgrounds and their interests, too.

What makes your store unique?

Our focus on local definitely makes us stand out. There aren’t a lot of bookstores that carry small press or local authors, especially with a large section dedicated specifically to them.

Our events also make us unique. In the first year, we will have hosted over 200 events.

We primarily host author events, but we also have two monthly book clubs, a monthly open mic, witchcraft workshops, writing workshops, a monthly tarot salon, toddler story time, live music events, and even theatre performances.

We are constantly trying to think of new events to host at the space to continue to support and connect with the community.

What are your biggest sellers?

Our best-selling novel is The Vampire Gideon’s Suicide Hotline and Halfway House for Orphaned Girls by Andrew Katz (published by local press Lanternfish).

Our second most popular book is The Power by Naomi Alderman.

Do you have promotions throughout the year?

Yes, we periodically have various promotions, usually tied to a holiday or festival in the area.

Do you have author book signings?

We do! As mentioned above, we have author events pretty much every week. We primarily feature local authors.

What advice would you give to authors just starting out?

To get to know your local independent bookstores and literary community. It’s the best way to make connections and to get your work out there.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you and your store?

More than anything, our goal is to cultivate community. This means we want to meet you! We want to get to know who your favorite authors are and what kind of events you want to see at A Novel Idea.

What are some of your favorite books/authors?

Christina’s favorite book is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.

Alex’s favorite book is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.

Do you have a website/Facebook page, etc?

Yes! Our website is: Our Facebook is: Our Instagram is: Our Twitter is:

Thank you, Alex and Christina, for spending time with us and sharing your story. We wish you and A Novel Idea continued success and lots of luck!

Photo courtesy of: A Novel Idea

Interview With Book Store Owner Joseph Russakoff

In the technological age when large retailers encourage buying brand new products, usable items are readily abandoned and lost to us.

From cars to phones to diet trends, the shelf life of merchandise gets shorter each year due to upgrades and other attention seeking advertisements. Books are no exception; millions of new books replace short-lived titles each year.

It’s reassuring that some people recognize the value of information and insight  wrapped up in the covers of used books. How can we understand where we are if we don’t consider what our predecessors wisely wrote for prosperity?

It’s important to look to the future but we mustn’t overlook the cumulative lessons of those who came before us.

Mostly Books, owned and operated by Joseph Russakoff, is an independent bookstore in Philadelphia, PA that respects the treasure trove of old stories and non-fiction books many people still circle back to.

Located in a series of 19th century workshops, they sell 50,000+ used books, dvds, cds, lps. They also swap books!

Now that I’ve told a little about Mostly Books, let’s get to know the owner a little better.

Hello, Joseph, welcome to Angel Kiss Publications. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview.

Thank you for having me.

What prompted you to open an Independent Book Store?

Social anxiety about working in an office setting, also political considerations. I was expecting by this time we would all be living in communes making solar collectors to barter for tofu.

Things didn’t turn out that way. The next best thing was to open a used bookstore.

Can you tell us a little about Mostly Books?

It has a lot of books; a mixture of thousands of people’s treasured books that they don’t have room for anymore. People often comment that they can feel the spirits of the former owners.

What’s involved with running an independent book store?

The main thing is being able to tell the difference between boring books and interesting books. I realized early on it’s a talent that most people don’t have. The other thing is learning to endure sometimes long periods of deep poverty.

Is competition with online retailers difficult?

They have their lane and I have mine. 

What makes your store unique?

It is pretty much the way everything was, not just bookstores, before the age of the internet. You go through and look for yourself.

More people than you find the helpful hints from Amazon and Facebook intrusive. We won’t make any suggestions unless you ask. And even then we probably won’t.

What are your biggest sellers?

Spooky stuff. Ethnic stuff. Pop culture. 

Do you have promotions throughout the year?

No. We’re a bookstore, not a social club.

Do you have author book signings?

Not in years.

What advice would you give to authors just starting out?

Don’t be corny.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you and your store?

You have to like browsing through books to understand the store. You will be confused if you come with a list of ISBN numbers and expect for me to look them up on a computer.

That’s another thing, our inventory isn’t computerized. You come and look, and find a lot of stuff if you have a curious mind.

What are some of your favorite books/authors?

At this point in my life I am too scatterbrained to focus on one author, although I do like history.

Do you have a website/Facebook page, etc?   

Thank you, Joseph, for taking the time to share your story with us. We wish you and Mostly Books continued success and lots of luck!

Independent Book Stores

As an author I love books. I love cracking open a fresh cover and hearing the stiff crinkle as it’s unfurled for the first time.

There’s something special about being the initial one to open a brand new book. It’s as if the words inside are old friends welcoming you, keen to tell a tale written with you in mind.

Over the years, I’ve purchased books for my Kindle and my Nook but I never seem contented with the purchase. E-commerce transactions are convenient for our fast-paced lifestyles.

That handy-dandy click to purchase button has turned into the norm but, for me, the experience comes up short. It lacks the personal touch of chatting with an Independent Bookseller who cares for books as much as I do.

I enjoy entering a place where books are the mainstay and the atmosphere is awash with the joy of bibliophiles as they peruse the shelves. I also like being surrounded by many shelves chock full of books that cater to every niche. You can’t get that with an online merchant.

Because I value the contributions of Independent Books stores, I’ve started interviewing the people who manage them. It’s important for us to recognize that small business owners are people who recognize their patrons and cater to their different needs. 

Independent Bookstores are an integral part of a community and we can’t let them disappear into obscurity. We must prevent their being overwhelmed by a single impersonal conglomerate that rakes in millions of dollars every year without paying their fair share to neighborhood economies.

Since small business proprietors are established in local communities, they care about the people they serve and often donate to support youth groups and other charitable causes.

For more on why Independent Book Stores Matter click the articles below.

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