What I Learned from My Little Bookstore

“A place isn’t a place till it has a bookstore”.…Gabrielle Zevin

Managing a small campus bookstore has been one of the most rewarding endeavors I’ve experienced in my life.  Small, full of exquisite little items, this bookstore became the community hub for the students of a small indigenous college.

There is something visceral about working so closely with a tight community.  To bring forward something different with the goal of total inclusion – no one left behind.  This was my grand experiment.

One of the important steps in starting this business was creating the vision of what the store would look like and be.  I started with the following mission and vision statements:

Mission

To provide the best possible service to the ___ campus while building a welcoming, thought-provoking creative space for the ___community to gather.

Vision

To create a community of respect and collaboration through:  Connection, Creativity, Conversation and Care

These ideals were the foundation for the store.  The store went from a dead space to a thriving student centrist bookstore where the community gathered in conversation and connection.  It was hard work, but the results were tangible.

So what did I learn from this experience?  I’ve boiled down my five years into these five bullet points:

  1. The bookstore was a “hub” and thus constantly has to have it’s “fingers on the pulse”.  Always tapping into the needs and concerns of the institutions populations. Changing when change was necessary, providing consistency when stability was required.
  2. Be proactive from the moment you open to the end of the day.  Constantly looking to improve or create “communal tension”  This keeps the customer and/or community in a state of “Wow”!  This mitigates possible impacts from outside influences and/or changes that may be perceived to be unfriendly to the community at large (budget cut-backs, layoffs, enrollment drops, etc.).
  3. Always be willing to engage you customers. Never think you know more than your customers or audience. Be willing to listen, even if it’s uncomfortable.
  4. Your creating a micro community. Take the high road and keep a holistic perspective.  Always approach the process with an open mind and an eagerness to unlearn what you think you might already know.
  5. Be creative. Never let the business languish or become complacent. Allowing creativity to happen creates dynamic energy. This energy keeps things fresh and alive. The venue will represent this in many tangible and intangible ways

I saw the potential for this small venue to build community.  I ran with the opportunity.  As I reflect back on my experience, I feel sense of accomplishment knowing the impact a mindful business can have on a community.  A business I built with an intention in mind.

 

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