A Journey to Opening a Bookstore

After years of dreaming and almost two years of planning, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting finally opened Greenlight Bookstore in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn.  I’m well aware of Greenlight Bookstore’s opening even though I live 3,000 miles away and have never been to Brooklyn.  How did they do that?

Internet Savvy

Jessica declared her desire to open a bookstore right here on The Bookshop Blog in February, 2008 and she continued to document her journey on her own blog, eventually entitled the Greenlight Bookstore. Readers kept up with her progress from the initial posts when all she had was $15,000 grant from the Brooklyn Business Library, a few contributions, and high hopes, to the most recent announcing the activities for opening day.  Along the way, Jessica shared finding a partner, a location, a name, an architect, a logo, and more.  What she built was a following for Greenlight Bookstore and a sense of anticipation for its opening.

Greenlight Bookstore Launch
Greenlight Bookstore Launch

For months, I’ve seen traces of the store’s development on book blogs, bookstore newsletters, and social networks.  For every new development, tweets spread through the book world and posts appeared on my Facebook newsfeed.  Their architect, Fredrick Tang, joined in and posted about the store remodel on his blog, The Brownstoner. Greenlight Bookstore blog lists over 17 recent articles about the store, all free publicity.  Jessica and Rebecca also write for AOL’s The Startup about small business issues beyond just the book world and have appeared on AOL’s opening page.

It looks as if they have leveraged the Internet to its greatest potential, what will be interesting to watch is how much that will translate into sales.  Hopefully, they will see their efforts pay off and future booksellers can follow in their Internet footsteps.

Financing

Jessica noted that many bookstores started with funding from real estate equity or rich relative/friend/angel.  She had neither.  She discovered that she did not qualify for a standard bank small business loan (and that was before the impact of the recession).  She was left with drive to succeed and a few clever ideas.  Last year when people received stimulus checks from the government, Jessica started her own “Stimulating Reading” fundraising drive for her future bookstore.   In return for contributing to Stimulating Reading, the donors received various swag items, depending upon the amount given.

Most interesting is their community lender program which literally gives the community an opportunity to buy in.  A recent blog post described the terms of a community loan:

  • Lenders choose their own interest rate, between 2.5% (just above the minimum required by the IRS) and 4% (just above the prime rate at the time of the original post),
  • Loans of $1000 or more will be paid back by Greenlight Bookstore with quarterly payments over five years, beginning one year from the opening date of the bookstore,
  • Lenders receive the employee discount of 30% off all purchases until the loan is paid in full (for a 30% discount, I might not ever want my loan fully repaid),
  • “Community lender privileges” include advance notice of author appearances, sales and other store functions throughout the life of the bookstore,
  • Lenders at the $10K+ level will be included in meetings of the bookstore’s Advisory Council, to get in-depth updates on the store’s progress, and
  • In the future, an optional “lender internship” will be offered for high-level investors, in which they’d have the chance to experience the various parts of the store’s operations, such as buying, receiving, hosting events, etc.

Granted, I’m a lover of bookstores, but the terms are attractive for booklovers and the return beats my local banks CD rates.

Community Involvement

Courting the Fort Greene community didn’t begin and end with financing.  Jessica and Rebecca chose a community that truly wanted a bookstore.  The Fort Greene Association surveyed the neighborhood to find out what business the residents wanted, and the number one choice?  A bookstore.  While Jessica and Rebecca had a willing partner, they still went all out courting a relationship with the community.

They held a launch party a year before the store opened, in fact, before they even secured a location, all they really had was a desire to connect with the community.   Jessica and Rebecca used the party to advertise the future store and encourage investors, but also to ask the neighborhood who to hire as an architect or contractor or bookseller and how the community shops.  A year later, in the midst of clearing out their premises and remodeling, they hosted a community mixer inviting the neighborhood to look at the plans for the store.

These efforts look like the best laid plans and a firm foundation for a successful independent bookstore.  Let’s all hope for a successful future for Greenlight Bookstore!

[editor’s note: I remember Jessica writing for us and I remember her sincere love for books. I am thrilled that she got her dream off the ground and wish her and her partner all the success they deserve. Here is another great post on opening a book store]

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Discussion

  1. George

    Congratulations Jessica!

    Hopefully you are already planning to open many more bookstores – this business presents an unbelievable future for all of us if it can enlist more people with your type of “far outside the box” entrepeneurial thinking.

    It is refreshing to see someone blatantly ignore all the doom and gloom and just go for it! Hopefully your methods will be adopted by more people and it begins a revival of the neighborhood brick and mortar stores.

    Enlisting their help and rallying the community around a bookstore is common sense so if you focus on their needs it should assure your long term success. Brilliant! And yet, it is not something that would occur to many business people.

    Thanks for the inspiration and the new ideas!

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