What Makes a Bookshop Visually Stand Out?

Shane Gottwals
As I’ve written many times before, Gottwals Books has experienced change after change after change.  We opened our fourth store two weeks ago, and we are now in the process of expanding our first location.  We began in Warner Robins, GA with 1500 square feet and little clue about how to operate a bookstore.  One year later, we grew to 2700 square feet.  Now, we are adding 1800 more, giving us a total of 4500.  That’s a pretty big used bookstore!
Well, I plan to gut the entire place and start anew.  We want to do it right… we want to make it whimsical and wonderful.  However, the only neat ideas I can come up with are to make a hole in the wall so that kids can crawl through, and I also want to paint a portion of the ceiling with the sky/clouds.  So, I need ideas.

Merci in Paris

For those of you who don’t have your own store, the initial process is great.  Starting with a blank slate, able to do whatever you fancy, is exciting.  Even yesterday, I went to the home improvement store and spent $400 on things I needed to start building bookcases.  I’ve been working on the design for a while, and I must say that it’s turning out nicely.  I stained, polyurethaned, nailed, and glued a hundred joints.  There are articles on making cheap bookshelves here on bookshopblog.com, but I think I did pretty well on my own.  It took me one day to build the first one… I wonder how long it’s going to take to build the other 80?
Even just that one thing… building a bookcase that is going to FILL my store and set the mood, in a sense, for those walking in… is a piece of the start-up excitement.  After that come the counter area, the signage, the wall color(s), the mapping out of the different sections, the setting up of the seating area, etc.  The whole process is wonderful! and expensive.  The expense is part of the reason why I want to do things well this time around.  We’ve always made our stores nice, but I want this place to POP!  I have pried my wallet open just enough to agree to all the expense, so I want to get this ball rolling before it clamps shut again.  I’m a very cheap man.
So, feed me your ideas.  If you don’t have a store already, what are some of those things you envision for it?  If you do have a store, please tell me those things that set you apart.  I’ve been scouring the internet for images from the inside of bookstores, layouts, etc. and I’m just trying to piece together the best of the best.  I know this store can be wonderful, but my brain works best with the business side of things, not the design.  My wife has a great knack for making things pretty, but she has a lot on her plate already.  What would you do if you can start anew?  And don’t mention a coffee bar!  (You would have had to read one of my earlier articles to understand this.)
You’ll be able to track the changes at www.gottwalsbooks.com!  Thank you for the help.

4 thoughts on “What Makes a Bookshop Visually Stand Out?”

  1. if I had my time again I would find room for artwork on the walls -one of the previous owners of my store had a huge collection of vintage 60s posters and they always drew people in
    I’d also like to squeeze in a couple of glass cabinet one with pottery pieces by a couple of local artists
    and the other with a couple of rare books and euphemia. We get the odd edwardian postcard or vintage tram ticket tucked inside a book and it would be nice to have a ‘found in a book’ display and you could sell from the cabinets too
    another store I know had lots of newspaper clippings about book stores old and new displayed as well as pieces on local authors
    have fun
    good luck with store no 4 I have thought about a second store but wages and rent here are so high am dubious about taking another store on

  2. Love the smaller door idea for kids. At Ikea, their hole-in-the-wall is several feet off the floor. Kids have to climb a very short ladder and then there is a slide on the other side.

  3. It sounds like a whole lot more work to own a brick and mortar bookstore than an online one:-) I used to own an online bookstore, which I loved, but I didn’t have to build the shelves!

    I think anything you can do to make it different – a place where people feel good about coming to. Homey decorations do a lot for that – the paint color, wallpaper, etc. It’s worth it because it will make a lasting impression and bring people back.

  4. When we moved our used paperback exchange bookstore to a larger location, we wanted something different, and had a very small budget. So, the bookshelf builder came up with a different idea. These shelves are really for paperbacks only but just take up 1.5’ of floor space and are made out of pressed board and masonite, plus the wood supports. You can sorta see them at bookplacesandiego.com. Hardbacks are on the reinforced top shelf. One of the nice things I discovered is that I can see the front desk through the shelves, which is a good thing, since we usually only have one salesperson in the store at a time.

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