Ann Patchett and Me


Josie Leavitt - November 18, 2011

I have been following with great interest Ann Patchett’s desire to bring an independent bookstore back to Nashville.  As we approach our 15th anniversary this weekend, I can’t help but notice the differences and similarities.
– We opened a store because there wasn’t a bookstore nearby, just as Ann was aggrieved that Nashville was lacking an indie. We opened in Charlotte, Vt., population 3,500. Nashville’s population is just over 600,000. What’s scary to me is that a city of over half a million couldn’t keep a bookstore going. Here’s hoping Ann’s store can buck the trend.
– Ann had her idea in the spring and the bookstore appears to be a few days from opening. We had our idea to open when the building (the only commercial building on what amounts to Main Street) was up for rent. We signed the lease on September, 1 1996, and opened on November 23, 1996, roughly 10 weeks from idea to opening day. Ann took six months, probably a much more sane amount of time, and invested $300,000. We had $65,000 to start with.
– Ann did not know anything about retail bookstores when she had this idea. Ann got a partner who did.
– We did not know anything about retail bookstores when we had the idea for our store. We learned on the fly and while this was fun, it was probably not the best business model.
– We started as a kids’-only store and quickly realized that we needed to have adult books, so we expanded our store to be a general bookstore with a great kids’ section. Our kids’ section is fully half the store and that works for us. To have the kids “as far away from the front door as possible”, as Ann was advised, could be a mistake (read the whole New York Times article here). If people can’t find the kids’ section they won’t shop in it.
– This is not part of the list, but I want to share this tidbit with Ann: Here’s the great thing about the kids’ section: adults may not buy books for themselves when times are tough, but they’re still going to get their kids birthday presents and holiday presents. For the most part, this is the part of the store that hasn’t yet been taken over by the e-book.  This is borne out by our second bestselling section: hardcover picture books.
– Ann is famous.
– We were not. In fact we had just moved to Vermont in June 1996 and outside of our neighbors, who were our very first customers, no one knew us when we opened our store.
– Ann’s bookstore will always have signed Ann Patchett books. I have never had a signed Ann Patchett book. I’ve requested Ann for an author visit five years in a row, and have been told no by the publisher every year.
– We both love books and want to live a town where an indie bookstore is a vital part of the community. I wish Ann and her partner the best of luck and here’s hoping we’re both still open 15 years from now.

2 thoughts on “Ann Patchett and Me

  1. Amy Hill Hearth

    Were you told why you were turned down for an author appearance by Ann Patchett? The publisher probably decided it was too far, or your store too small, to make it worth her while. Please don’t assume she knows, however. I often find out after-the-fact that I was invited to do a signing somewhere. If it’s not on my official tour itinerary, some well-meaning publishing assistant may say no on my behalf without checking with me. If I am contacted directly (via my website), I do try to work out a visit.

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  2. Carin Siegfried

    Just to let you know, it’s not that Nashville couldn’t sustain a bookstore. The bookstores in town closed for a variety of reasons – Bookstar (B&N)’s building was undergoing an extensive year-long renovation, the B&N’s mall was flooded and closed for more than 6 months, Borders and Tower Books of course and Davis-Kidd in the end were brought down by corporate bosses that couldn’t run the businesses, not because the city didn’t support them (and because of weird weather and bad timing). Nashville definitely CAN support a bookstore – or half a dozen – which is why I think Parnassus will do very well. I am thrilled about the store opening and wish them much luck and sales! It likely will be the very first place I visit next time I go home.

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