Interview With Bindlestick Books

Founded in December 2005, Bindlestiff Books, is a volunteer-run neighborhood bookstore in West Philadelphia. They fill their shelves with carefully selected children’s books, literary fiction, graphic novels, art, cookbooks, history, labor studies, politics, and much more.

Housed in a pleasant blue building from 1925, their store front window is appealing and redolent of the early 20th century.

Another notable feature that adds to the store’s bygone charm is a Books and Buildings mural by local artist, Jonny Buss. Outlined in a turquoise frame, the warm and cool colors within commingle a friendly and bookish community.

As an all-volunteer enterprise, Bindlestiff Books’ hours can be unpredictable, but they are available Tuesdays (3:30—7:00), Thursdays (Noon—3:30), Saturdays (Noon—7) and Sundays (Noon—5). 

You can also contact them at 4530 Baltimore Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19143; Phone number: 215.662.5780; Email: bindlestiff.bookstore@gmail.com to see if they’re available at other times.

Jon Bekken, one of the store’s representatives, took some time to talk a little about Bindlestiff Books and its fundamental contributions to the community.

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

Thank you for having me.

What motivated you to open an Independent Book Store?

We like books, we had a building, and the neighborhood needed a bookstore. There were book stores (new and used) catering to the universities, but nothing serving long-time West Philadelphians.

Can you tell us a little about Bindlestiff Books?

We’re a volunteer-run bookstore, aimed at serving people who walk or bike around the neighborhood.

We carry a fairly wide selection of new books (many of which are discounted); our strongest sections are children’s books, literary fiction and science fiction, politics and history, but we also have Spanish-language and bilingual children’s books, graphic novels, art, African-American, labor, education and gender studies.

We deliberately choose all our books; we don’t have space to carry everything, so we think about what we like and what we think our friends and neighbors would like.

What’s involved with running an independent book store?

It’s mostly about the books, of course. Following new releases, talking to people about what they’re reading, reading the reviews, etc.

But that’s the fun part; the challenge is keeping the store open (recruiting volunteers, organizing the space, managing the finances).

Is competition with online retailers difficult?

They have been able to use their market power to demand special terms from publishers, and so sometimes we can sell books for less than the wholesale price.

But now that happens only for a handful of titles; investors tired of losing millions of dollars every year to establish a monopoly position.

Many people want to hold a book in their hands, to read a few pages, to get a sense of whether it’s the right book for them before buying it. And we’re here for them.

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

By curating the books, helping people winnow through the tens of thousands of books published each year to find things worth reading.

And of course some folks are on their way to a birthday party or heading out on a trip and need a good book right now.

It’s not clear that B&N will still be here in ten years. They’ve been closing stores across the country and lost tens of millions on their efforts to go digital. They just got bought by an investment firm that is placing a former independent bookseller in charge.

But he’s also running a smaller book chain they own in Great Britain and claims his approach is basically to let managers run stores as if they were independents.

But the whole point of the chains (and of Amazon) was merchandising–targeted promotions, rapid turn-over, books as a disposable product.

I’m not sure how you meld monopolization and merchandising with what people love about bookstores.

What makes your store unique?

We reflect the neighborhood, bridging the community that was here before the developers tried to rebrand our neighborhood and the folks who have been moving in in recent years.

Our volunteers are people who love books, and our selection is as eclectic as they are.

What are your biggest sellers?

We sell a lot of children’s books, a lot of fiction, a lot of books on politics and current events. But we don’t carry lots of copies of any particular title.

We post a best-seller list to our website each month, and a book can often make the list selling 3 or 4 copies. Rather than focus on a few titles, we try to have a broad selection of outstanding books in the areas we stock.

Do you have promotions throughout the year?

We do occasional Giant Book Sales on overstocked titles and sell select new books for $1.00 during the Dollar Strolls down Baltimore Avenue.

Do you have author book signings?

We’ve cut back on events, and now only organize readings when we can partner with someone or have a very clear picture in our mind of who will turn out.

If we’re doing an event with an author, we try to put together something that stands out–the author of a history of Philadelphia transit workers at the Transit Workers Union hall; a book on the clipper ships and the magnates who ran the trans-Pacific trade at a Victorian mansion that’s been converted to a B&B.

What advice would you give to authors just starting out?

The writing is the most important thing, but once you have your book think about how you want to publish it.

Today anyone can print a few hundred copies of something that looks kind of like a book, the challenge is to connect your book with readers.

Look for publishers who have done a good job with similar books, or talk to authors in your area to find out what’s worked for them.

What are some of your favorite books/authors?

Ursula Le Guin is my favorite author, and The Dispossessed my favorite novel.

We try to carry all her books–and also everything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, Roxanne Gay, Haruki Murakami, Kobi Yamada, and a few others.

Do you have a website/Facebook page, etc?

https://bindlestiffbooks.wordpress.com

https://www.facebook.com/bindlestiffbooks/

Thank you, Jon, for spending time with us and sharing your story. We wish you and Bindlestiff Books continued success and lots of luck!

Interview With Neighborhood Books Owner

Founded in 2013, Neighborhood Books is an independently owned secondhand bookstore at 1906 South Street, Philadelphia, PA.

The owner, Curtis Kise, a witty and well-read bibliophile, has spent 25 years in the used book trade. He began his career in the early 2000s when he opened Book Traders in Portland, Maine.

At heart, Kise is fond of traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores and believes they still have value for the community. However, if pressed, he’ll ruefully admit that in 15 years or so, people may refer to a bookshop as an antique store.

Neighborhood Books is open seven days a week from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Now that I’ve introduced you to Curtis, let’s get to know more about him and Neighborhood Books.

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

Thank you for having me.

What motivated you to open an Independent Book Store?

I’ve been in the used book business since 1988, starting at the Book Trader when it was at 5th and South Streets, with 7 years off for good behavior, optioning a screenplay in 1995.


Neighborhood Books is the second used bookshop that I’ve owned, my first being Booktraders in Portland, Maine, which opened in 2002.


Then back to the Book Trader, and stints with the Friends of the Free Library and Ukazoo Books, before opening Neighborhood Books in 2013.

Photo courtesy of: Neighborhood Books via Facebook


Can you tell us a little about Neighborhood Books?

Neighborhood Books is primarily a used bookstore focusing on the humanities, with a large selection of literature/fiction, philosophy and history, among other subject matters.


We do sell select brand new books, a cross section of current bestsellers and classic titles like 1984, One Hundred Years of Solitude, the Handmaid’s Tale to name a few.


We also sell our author and title inspired t-shirts along with some ephemera at authorshirts.com

Photo courtesy of: Neighborhood Books

What’s involved with running an independent bookstore?


Dedication, knowledge and experience.

Is competition with online retailers difficult?

Yes and no. We do sell some books online, subjects that we don’t sell in store.

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

The online platform that we use is Amazon. A used bookstore like ours has to have new bookstores like Barnes and Noble to replenish the herd, as it were, they don’t scare us.

What makes your store unique?

The personality of the owner and the store’s clientele.

What are your biggest sellers?

Literature/fiction – all genres except romance.



Do you have promotions throughout the year?

Right now we have a store-wide buy 3 books and get a 4th free which may become a permanent thing.


Do you have author book signings?

No. 


What advice would you give to authors just starting out?

Write every day.


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

We are open 359 days a year, closed major holidays.



What are some of your favorite books/authors?

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr was one of the best reading experiences of my life. I really like Richard Russo and Joan Didion. 

Do you have a website/Facebook page, etc?


We are on Facebook as Neighborhood Books, and Instagram as @NeighborhoodBooks and our above mentioned website authorshirts.com.

Thank you, Curtis, for spending time with us and sharing your story. We wish you and Neighborhood Books continued success and lots of luck!

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: https://anovelideaphilly.com/. Our Facebook is: https://www.facebook.com/anovelideaphilly/. Our Instagram is: https://www.instagram.com/anovelideaphilly/. Our Twitter is: https://twitter.com/anovelideaphl.



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?

https://www.facebook.com/mostlybooksphilly/   

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!

The Doylestown Book Shop

The Doylestown Book Shop is the second stop on my Independent Book Store tour. To bring an awareness of how vital these places are, I’m interviewing the great folks who manage them.

The Doylestown Book Shop, in downtown Doylestown, PA, is owned and operated by Glenda Childs.

She employs a wonderful staff, all dedicated to bringing their customers an alternative to the ordinary. They carry an extensive inventory of new and nearly new books from classic literature to current bestsellers.

A few weeks ago, Glenda and I took some time to chat about her book shop and what inspired her to open it. 

Hello, Glenda, welcome to Angel Kiss Publications.

Thank you for having me.

What motivated you to open an Independent Book Store? 

I have loved reading and books since I was a little girl. I worked in education for many years before I purchased the Doylestown Bookshop, which was a good segue into bookselling. I especially love the way the bookstore is a part of the community.

Can you tell us a little about the Doylestown Book Shop? 

We opened the Doylestown Bookshop in 1998. We thought a bookstore would do well there and wanted to offer this community-centered business to the local residents.

What’s involved with running an independent book store? 

Mostly, running an independent bookstore is about being a part of the community, understanding their literary needs, bringing books into their lives through author events, school visits, and book celebrations. We belong to the American Booksellers Association, a great resource for training and industry knowledge.

Is competition with online retailers difficult?

Yes, but it appears we have settled into a place where a certain percentage of all book sales goes to online, e-books and brick and mortar stores. We try very hard to focus on offering the best customer service and providing a unique shopping experience in our stores that might make us different.

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

In addition to offering a unique shopping experience and wonderful customer service, we work hard to generate off-site sales through events, book fairs, book talks. We are fortunate to live in a community that supports our bookstores.

What makes your store unique?

Spacious locations, knowledgeable, kind booksellers, curated inventory based on community needs. And our staff picks walls!

What are your biggest sellers? 

Children’s books sell well, as do adult fiction, biography, and history.

Do you have promotions throughout the year?

Yes! We have Independent Bookstore Day in April, we do sidewalk sales in January and July.

Do you have author book signings? 

Yes! This is an important part of our business, not just for sales, but for our mission statement as well. We want to bring educational experiences to the community and author signings do this.

What advice would you give to authors just starting out?  

Authors must write from their heart and experience, but also know who their audience is. Self-published authors also need to understand the importance of marketing their book and generating interest in their work. Joining writing groups might help with some of this.

Photo courtesy of: The Doylestown Book Shop

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

Here is an interesting fact: The Berenstain Bears authors, Jan and Stan Berenstain were former Doylestown residents. Their son has continued writing these much-loved books.

Many years ago the Doylestown Bookshop became the official provider of Berenstain Bears books. They listed us on their website, have a large selection in our store and we  ship Berenstain Bears books all over the world!

That is pretty cool!

What are some of your favorite books/authors? 

My two favorite books over the last couple of years have been A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. It is very hard to choose favorite books or authors as it is always changing! 

Do you have a website/Facebook page, etc? 

Yes! Krisy Paredes is our marketing and events manager. We have another staff member who manages our website.

It is important that we have a consistent social media presence to help promote books and events. Our website is an indie commerce website where customers can learn about upcoming events and purchase books. 

http://www.doylestownbookshop.com/

https://www.facebook.com/DoylestownBookshop/

Thank you, Glenda, for taking the time to tell us about your Independent Book Store. We wish you and Doylestown Book Shop continued success and lots of luck!

Photo courtesy of: The Doylestown Book SHop