One of the nice things about a new year in a bookstore is that, after the climactic holiday season, it really does feel like turning over a new leaf and starting again. And sometimes it creates a nice opportunity to take a new look at something that hasn’t been shaken up in a while.
One of the defining characteristics of Austin in recent years has been change. Whatever metric you use, whichever tracking you look at, Austin’s growth over the last decade has been explosive and continues pretty much unabated. There are many obvious upsides to that dynamic growth—a growing community of readers for one—but one big downside is traffic, and our store sits pretty much at the center of it all. Austin has such a strong book culture that there’s not really a question, when booking someone as popular as Robin Preiss Glasser, that we can get a crowd. The real question is how to time our events to make it easiest on families who want to attend.
For years we’ve generally stuck to an early evening, post-work timeframe for weekday kids’ events, but traffic can sometimes present an issue. For such a young crowd this seemed like the perfect opportunity to test out an earlier time to bring people in after school but before the evening rush. There were reasons an afternoon time hadn’t worked as well in the past, but Austin dynamics have changed a lot since then. What better way to test it out anew than with a 4PM Fancy Nancy tea party with Robin Preiss Glasser? This afternoon we pulled out our best finery and got ready to party. Special outfits? Check! Cookies and snacks? Check! Fancy mustaches? Check!
It seems like such a small risk to move an event by a couple of hours. But you never want to accidentally dampen an author’s event by changing things up and confusing your customers. So we were thrilled when our store started getting noticeably fancier, one bedazzled family at a time, a good hour before the sparkly, frilly, poofy celebration was upon us! Soon enough we were meowing in unison, posture training with bananas, and learning all kinds of fancy new words with more than 100 of our most elegant friends.
While we’re changing things up, we’ve also taken a look at our storytime program, which has run week in and week out every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10:30 and every Saturday at 11:30 since before I ever arrived in Austin back in 2005. But we noticed our Saturday storytimes weren’t quite keeping pace with our booming weekday versions, and as a parent I realized at least one of my kids is almost always going down for naps around then. After comparing notes, we found we’d actually been hearing that from customers too. So as of this month, for the first time in something like 15 years, all our weekly storytimes are now happening at 10:30 across the board. We’re also going to experiment this season with offering a storytime session every day Monday-Saturday during Spring Break when kids are out of school and need somewhere fun to go. School holidays are always a busy time at the store; perhaps we can offer our families more programming on those days.
There’s always a delicate balance in our business between offering consistency and staying fresh. For whatever reason, right now just seems like a good time to shake things up and see where we should reset the clock (and where we should leave well enough alone). For today, at least, the change-up felt like a great big sparkly success.