Open Your Bookstore
The Little Bookstore That Could
Have you ever dreamed of opening your own independent bookstore? Many book lovers do. Here’s the story of three young women who made their dream a reality.
It all started when the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, an outer borough of New York City, announced it was closing down at the end of December 2015 because of a dispute with the landlord. There was an outcry in the neighborhood. More than 6,000 people signed a petition urging the bookstore to stay. But it was no use. Barnes & Noble moved out, replaced by a Target, which was never beloved in the way the bookstore had been.
A New Place for Book Lovers
After Barnes & Noble closed, it left a vacuum. There was only one other general-purpose bookstore selling new books remaining in all of Queens, despite its population of more than 2.3 million. Clearly, there was a big need for a place for book lovers to gather. But what could be done? Bookstores were shutting down all over. Was it too late? Was the era of bookstores a thing of the past?
Not according to three former employees of the departed Barnes & Nobles. They were determined to open a new bookstore in Queens. They faced a difficult challenge, but they tried an unusual strategy, creating a Kickstarter to raise funds to open the new store. Word of mouth spread quickly, and Queens book lovers responded enthusiastically, with 831 people contributing a total of more than $72,000.
A Literary Location
After looking at about a dozen places, the three founders located the perfect spot, a sunny, cozy 700-foot storefront a mile and a half from where Barnes & Noble used to be. The site shared a small shopping district with neighborhood restaurants and an art house movie theater. The owners fixed it up, creating a bright, cheerful space with hardwood floors, a carefully curated selection of books, and a special section for children’s books.
They named it Kew & Willow Books. “Kew” is a nod to the store’s Queens neighborhood, Kew Gardens. “Willow” was inspired by the Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter books, which J.K. Rowling’s conjured up after a trip to the Botanical Gardens in the other Kew Gardens, the one across the pond in England.
You won’t be surprised to hear that this little store, made possible by the support of the local community, is the site of many community events. Kew & Willow hosts readings and book launches by local authors, a book club, and story time for kids. It’s a place for neighbors to gather and a living example that dreams, however improbable they may seem, sometimes can come true.
In an era when brick-and-mortar retail in general and bookstores in particular, are disappearing, people still hunger for the experience of walking into a store where they can get personalized book-buying advice, browse books piled high on shelves and lying on tables, pick up the books in their hands, turn them over, flip through the pages and, for a moment, lose themselves in the pages of a book.
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