I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.
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OK, no, I mean, yeah, not really, at least when it comes to running a business, what we know is incredibly important, but for the sake of this name dropping blog, I thought it was a good title.
What authors have I met? Well my Aunt is an author: Cindy Bonner. She was the first. She writes historical Texas romance novels. Lily: a love story, Looking after Lily, The Passion of Dellie O’Barr. I love looking for her books in used bookstores across the country, and I often find them. I’ve found copies of Lily that have unique inscriptions to whomever, as well as my Aunts signature. I met Stephanie Myers at a book signing some years back. My wife, at the time, was interested in going, in part because my wife started off Latter Day Saints (Mormon) (though she isn’t anymore), and wanted to meet the most popular Mormon author of the time, which happened to be Stephanie Myers.
When I moved to New York City I worked for the Barnes&Noble on the Upper East Side, at 86th and Lexington, it opened its doors in 2009, and would be the company’s brand new Flagship store. It was designed partly by Len Riggio, who is one of the founders, and owners of Barnes&Noble. I met both Len, and his brother Steve while working at 86th and Lex. A number of actors, authors, comedians either shopped there, or were invited to do various events. Lewis Black performed in the event space, once. A few authors were asked to speak, but the interesting ones—for me—those that wrote fiction were usually asked to read/sign/Q&A at the Union Square Barnes&Noble.
Kevin Kline was a regular shopper, along with Alec Baldwin, Rene Zellweger, Jodi Foster, Madonna, and more. Joseph Cross would come in a good bit, and I always recognized him, but I couldn’t place him. For months I tried to put a name to his face, he used his mothers’ B&N membership card, but his last name, Cross, still didn’t offer me the insight I needed to place him. I knew he was an actor, I’d seen him before—many times. Most of us have seen at least one movie that Joseph Cross has starred in. One afternoon he came in, and I was behind the register—we must have been shorthanded that day, I usually only supervised the front end—and Mr. Cross came to me, of course I recognized him right away, and my brain immediately went to work trying to place him, and then he said something to me, and how he said it just resonated, and a light went off! Owen Reilly! Joseph Cross played the evil tech genius in the movie Untraceable, and suddenly I was ringing this guy up, and that character was staring back at me. Joseph Cross has been in a lot of things, and though it was Untraceable that placed him for me, it was his role as Augusten Burroughs in Running with Scissors that made him stand out for me.
Also at 86th and Lex Lee Child, the authors of the Jack Reacher series, would often show up and hangout in the Mystery section, while customers browsed, they would often pick books off of the shelf and read the description on the back. Mr. Childs would say, “You don’t want to read that…” as he took one of his books from the shelf, and hand it to the patron, “You should read this.” Dan Rather interviewed Dan Brown one afternoon, at the store. Following the release of The Lost Symbol. Dan Brown is the author of The Da Vinci Code, if you’re unaware. I was able to meet him, briefly. I even have a signed copy of The Da Vinci Code (The Lost Symbol as well) in which Brown refers to himself as, “LA CHUPACABRA.”
It wasn’t until I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico that I got to know the authors that I do, today.
I met Sam Shepard while working as the Floor Manager at Double Take, a large consignment shop off of Guadalupe Street in the downtown area of Santa Fe. Shepard came in and I was the first person he saw, as I was making my rounds, and he stopped me to ask, “Where do y’all keep the Wranglers?” He and I would speak a couple more times at Double Take, but when I started working at Op. Cit. Books, and Sam Shepard came in pretty frequently, we started talking about literature, movies, art, and any number of things. I was upset to hear of his passing in July. He was a great author, and storyteller, and, of course, actor.
It was at Op. Cit. Books that I met Armistead Maupin, Bob Shacochis, Bob Mayer, Cormac McCarthy, Michael McGarrity, Joe Lansdale, William DeBuys, Sam Keen, Daniel Lenihan, Hampton Sides, and Natalie Goldberg. There may have been others but off the top of my head, that’s who I can remember. Willa Cather’s granddaughter came in to Op. Cit. a number of times, it was interesting talking with her.
At the time that I worked there Op. Cit. was located on the left front corner of The Sanbusco Center, it was a mall of sorts, but not exactly. The Sanbusco Center was on Montezuma Street, just off of Guadalupe Street in the downtown area. Across the street is the Jean Cocteau, a single screen movie theatre that had been left empty for nearly a decade. While I was working at Op. Cit. Books the theatre was bought and reopened by none other than the author of the Science Fiction series A Song of Ice and Fire, better known to the world as The Game of Throne series, written by George R. R. Martin (GRRM). Martin bought the Jean Cocteau and opened it as a movie theatre, a music venue, and a place for authors to read/sign/Q&A. And GRRM was there A LOT. Inside there was a full bar, as well as the typical movie theatre concession stand, and the lobby acted as a little bookstore for Martin’s books, Game of Thrones memorabilia, and signed books by authors that would do readings at the Jean Cocteau. I spent a great deal of time there. I would get a drink and sit in the lobby, which did act as a little café area too, with my laptop and I would write, and talk to people. GRRM came up with famed Sci-Fi writer Roger Zelazny, who wrote The Chronicles of Amber. The two started by writing episodes for The Twilight Zone—back in the day. Zelazny has since passed, but his son Trent, who is also a very talented Mystery Noir writer spends a lot of time at the theatre, considering GRRM is more, or less, Trent’s Godfather. I came to know GRRM and Trent really well, and Laurel, Trent’s girlfriend, at the time, now wife.
Hanging out at the Jean Cocteau had some perks. Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer are good friends of both Trent Zelazny and GRRM, so they were at the theatre a good bit—I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them on a few occasions. I met Michael Chabon, Junot Diaz, David Benioff, and Jonathan Nolan when they were hosted by the Cocteau for author events. Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan’s brother and co-writer for many films, hung out for a drink after a showing of The Prestige, which he co-wrote, and discussed; GRRM, Jon Nolan, Trent, and I had a drink in the café/lobby after the showing.
It sounds a great deal like I’m bragging, and in some respects I am, because I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to have met each of these people, they have in many ways inspired me to be a better writer, and a better person, and again, in that way, I am very lucky. But I mentioned them, in part because I was asked to write this blog, but also in part because meeting each of these people has made it easier me to invite each of them to come, and lecture, or read, or sign, or do a Q&A at CommuniTea Books. The opportunity to bring these authors to Boerne for events is one that I have been incredibly grateful for, and being able to share that with my community is a blessing. Also, if you are in Santa Fe, take the opportunity to stop by the Jean Cocteau, because it truly is an amazing venue that offers the community so, so much. Then afterwards stop by Meow Wolf.
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There are millions of books in existence, both in and out of print, books that we grew up with, books that have inspired us, books that have taught us, and books that have allowed us to escape. As I write this now I am sitting in a house surrounded by books, boxes full, shelves, they are stacked on window sills, and in corners, when people come to my home for the first time they inevitably ask if I have read all these books. No, I’ll respond, I have read a number of them, others I’m working towards, and others are collectible, they’re purpose is to sit on the shelves and fulfill me in ways that only old, or rare, or fascinating books can.
I have books that I brag about with people, when the topic comes up. I am proud to say that I have them sitting on my shelves, that I can stand there, slip the book off the shelf, and open it, and to not only be invited into a story, an idea exclusive to that particular book, but to know that someone else touched them, the signed books I have, for example; knowing that Chuck Yeager touched a copy of The Right Stuff that is resting on my shelf, that Michael Chabon asked my name as I stood above him, a first printing of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay outstretched towards him, and many more.
When opening a bookstore one of the decisions that you have to make, one of the decisions that I made—though it was easy for me—is what type of bookstore do you want to open. Specialty used bookstores, bookstores that have a general focus on genre, are what the general public is looking for today. That doesn’t mean that you cannot carry other genres, but it does mean that the limited space you undoubtedly have needs to be filled with books that your store specializes in. When owning, and operating a used bookstore you become more than just a bookseller, you become an expert, and the community develops expectations of your expertise, and your focus, your ‘specialty,’ becomes their guide.
Mystery, Sci-Fi, and Horror are some of the most popular specialty bookstores, and a lot of the time, when you focus on one of the three, you’re walking not only into a bookstore but into the mind, and the unique passion of the owner, the employees, and the patrons.
I specialize in Fiction/Literature, which sounds like a fairly broad specialty, and ultimately it is, but when I saw fiction/lit, and though I do carry Mystery, Horror, Sci-Fi, Photography, Art, Science, Cooking, Psychology, History, Religion/Spirituality, Children’s, and more I make the space for the Chabon’s, the Capote’s, the DeLillo’s, the Woodrell’s, the McCarthy’s, the Mitchell’s, the Nabokov’s, the Nichols’, the Stegner’s, the Wolfe’s, the Miller’s, the Hemingway’s, the Olmstead’s, the Percy’s, the Salter’s, and more, and more, and more, and all the Mystery’s the Art’s, the Children’s, the Psychology’s they all will have a certain literary foundation. CommuniTea Books focuses on books that are well written by authors that bleed feeling, and piercing desire onto the page.
There are authors that we refuse. Authors, too, that could be considered literary. I know this may sound high-brow, or snobbish, that the act would pigeonhole me, and CommuniTea Books with bookstores that the average person would otherwise despise. We’re not high-brow, or snobbish, and that’s again solely because I cannot stand pseudo intellectual depreciation, I believe it’s ridiculous to judge another human being by their vocabulary, their intellect, their interests, and how they express themselves. It’s utterly ridiculous. “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I believe that fiction brings people together, and the environment that inspires that meeting, that community, with literature at its foundation will open minds.
I prefer fiction/literature because of the way that it makes me feel: reading it, being surrounded by it, creating it, and there is, of course, a degree of alienation to my prerogative, but, again, it’s my prerogative, and I have an image of a bookstore that does maintain a standard, but the standard includes the inclusion of everyone, as long as they are willing, and people involved that help to make others feel welcome.
I think it is dangerous when open a used bookstores to not have a focus. If you are thinking about opening a bookstore, and are considering the attempt to not focus on a particular concept, or genre, I urge you to reconsider. I’ve had this conversation with many people. Those, like me who have been in the process of opening a used bookstore, those whom have already opened a bookstore, and those whom just have an opinion, most people understand, or come to understand if they had not before, that selecting a specialty is incredibly important; the argument that is often made, or that I often hear, at least, is one regarding Borders or Barnes&Noble or Hastings or Half Price Books, the argument is that none of these chain bookstores have a focus. And that’s not accurate, each of them has (or had) a focus. When you walk through the aisles at CommuniTea Books you’ll often, you will most definitely discover books that you would never see at Barnes&Noble, why is that – do you think? The majority of the books I have are literary, authors like Daniel Woodrell or Richard Bradford or Bob Shacochis, they’re works are incredibly brilliant and important, so why would you find them at CommuniTea Books and not Barnes&Noble? Barnes&Noble has a similar focus to CommuniTea Books, we both provide more space for Fiction than anything else, but Barnes&Noble focuses on Commercial Fiction while I focus on, CommuniTea Books focuses on Literary Fiction. Borders, Barnes&Noble, Hastings, and Half Price Books all have (or had) a focus, each of them focuses on Commercial Fiction—Half Price Books tends to be more relaxed with their used book decision making, and will often include works of Literary Fiction, but if the choice came between an author or a title that is Commercial vs. Literary they would choose Commercial 100% of the time, and that’s because that is their focus.
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CommuniTea Books doesn’t incorporate a lot of Comic Books, or Manga, and that decision was entirely personal, it’s as simple as the fact that I’m not largely into Comic Books so why would I waste the space in the store to sell them? Other than the fact, of course, that Comic Books make up a large market. Superhero comic books from both DC and Marvel are as big now as they have ever been, and bigger. The massive success of Marvel in Hollywood is proof alone that having some kind of comic book section would be beneficial for business. But, eh, I just don’t like it, and hey, I’m the owner so it is my prerogative, after all.
More often than not I don’t enjoy reading comic books, the writing is mediocre—which is a huge turn off for me, even in movies, if the script is bad, regardless of how good the story might be, or how well it might be directed, I’m initially not interested in it—very few comic books focus on the writing, it’s of little interest to the developers, and being a writer, maybe, I just cannot understand that. Everything, starts off as an idea and it must be communicated, in some way, to the designer, to the authors, to the artist, to the director, and that means of communication is to write it, in a creative, intelligent, and artistic way. So how do so many god awful comic books end up on the shelves!?
Graphic Novels have been the exception, for me. Stories such as Watchmen or V for Vendetta were really good, the writing was, for a long time, still sub-par, it was still better than most comic books.
But something happened, somewhere over the course of the last twenty years, much, in the same way that Television has become the new artistic focus, more so than movies: we see shows like True Detective, Game of Thrones, and so on, where Big Name Hollywood actors are now showing up in television series instead of focusing on movie roles, Graphic Novels have become a new way for great story tellers, even authors to reimagine their stories. The credit might be largely due to Neil Gaiman and his Sandman series. I mean, just recently, Victor LaValle, the author of Slapboxing with Jesus: Stories, The Ecstatic, and Big Machine, just released Destroyer, his first Graphic Novel.
Jonathan Lethem, Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Chuck Palahnuik, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Doris Lessing, Harlan Ellison, Salman Rushdie, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Umberto Eco, and even Stephen King wrote a graphic novel spin off of his Dark Tower series.
There is a place for what will be dubbed Literary Graphic Novels in CommuniTea Books, and to extend that idea even to somewhat obscure, and by obscure I mean, or rather, I am referring to The Amory Wars comics written by Claudio Sanchez, the lead singer of Coheed & Cambria. A band whose albums are all (with the exception of 1) inspired by The Amory Wars! And other comics either inspired by the their music or written by musicians, such as: Courtney Taylor-Taylor, of The Dandy Warhols,’ Zak Sally (Low, Enemymine), Tom Morello (Audioslave, Rage Against The Machine), Gene Simmons (Kiss), Archer Prewitt (The Sea and Cake), Jane Wiedlin (Go-Go’s), and, of course, David Lynch.
As I mentioned I don’t particularly like comic books but when they are shadowed by a degree of intrigue, they are obscure in their own right, when literary authors, musicians, and actors (Nick Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, Rosario Dawson, Mark Hamill, Bill Hader, John Cleese, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Rashida Jones) take part in the process it will, more often than not, have a place on the shelves at CommuniTea Books. Part of what bookstores bring to a community is a place to be introduced to new things, and new ideas, and how do you do that if you carry the same crap on the shelves? In this instance I don’t only refer to more typical comic books, but literary authors as well. Why walk through the aisles of a Barnes&Noble when you know exactly what you’re going to see?
If you’re looking for the latest James Patterson (Which, I hope you know, James Patterson did not write, in fact, he likely hasn’t written anything in years), then sure we’ll order it for you, but no there is not space for that book on my shelves. If you walk through the Mystery section at CommuniTea Books and you happen upon a James Patterson that book is either rare, or it is one of his earlier books—which will probably make it rare, to some degree—or perhaps it’s one of his Alex Cross novel series, which does happen to be a very well written, and developed character. One of the more memorable ones in the Mystery realm, and one that, unfortunately does not get a lot of attention for no reason other than it was James Patterson that created him.
There are, of course, the amazing artistic renditions of tales written by Homer, Jules Verne, and Kahlil Gibran, when I come across the gems, and then I pick up a random comic book I find on the shelves at a nostalgic shop or at Half Price Books I’m often amazed that some of these get made! Marvel and DC comics I get, they started at a time of turmoil and war, and were cheap illustrated stories that everybody could read and enjoy at a time when our country didn’t have much going for it (I suppose this time period isn’t the “Great Again” era, I’m still working on pinpointing that age), and the characters themselves are really, bloody cool! They were moralistic too! But people have been writing comic books for the past forty years seem to be too focused on keeping them specific to an idea, or to an era, they haven’t allowed them to change, to grow organically, you know, to develop, they’ve tried to maintain the writing style, and I don’t understand, why?
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Canyon Road, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is essentially a mile long strip of nothing but art galleries, with a few restaurants scattered about. From the bottom of the hill at Paseo De Peralta, on either side of the street, you are surrounded by galleries. We are talking art from every walk of life: every age, every style, every medium, anything you can imagine in the realm of art can be found on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I worked, for just under a year, at Adobe Gallery. The fourth gallery, on the right, at the bottom of the hill, near Paseo. Adobe Gallery focuses on Native American art, and more specifically Native American historic pottery, while I was there I saw some of the most amazing pieces of historic pots that I could have imagined. And I learned a great deal about the artists and the pueblos in the area that were producing them. It’s amazing to me because until Maria Martinez in the 1920’s the pottery: the hours spent gathering clay, water, forming the pot, and painting the pot, the artistic aspect were for the sake, only, of doing it. These pots were never intended to be sold, or appreciated, only used, by the families that made them. Maria Martinez changed all that when she discovered that there was a market for the design and the art outside of the pueblos.
I was responsible for staging, photographing, writing, and marketing. I was the Marketing Manager. I was there to learn as much as I could about the marketing aspect of sales. I learned a great deal about photography for sales, writing press releases, using Photoshop, and working with advertisers and publishers, from that perspective. I love the job, actually. The only thing I didn’t like about it was Todd. The “Advertising Manager,” he called himself, I’m not going to get too involved talking about him, but he was the sole reason that I left that position when I did—even though I took it merely to learn about that side of business. And, thanks to Al, the gallery owner, I did learn a great deal.
At the top of the hill, after you pass the last gallery, tucked away on the right hand side of the road, there is a restaurant, El Farol. It was one of my favorite restaurant/bars in Santa Fe, and not because of the food, though the food was pretty fantastic. I was more partial to the building itself, the design, and the bar, and trivia night, and Flamenco night…El Farol has been in Santa Fe since 1835—that’s not a typo, I didn’t mean 1935, and with a slip of the finger, and some degree of neglect, which does occur from time-to-time, I typed an “8.” A large group of us would sit at El Farol once a week and try our hand at some prize winning trivia. Incidentally, every Wednesday night, here in Boerne, some of ‘us,’ meet at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and play the same nationally recognized trivia game.
Directly across the street from El Farol is The Teahouse. I spent a lot of time here, at The Teahouse. And one of my best friends, Justine, and I would meet there more often than anywhere in Santa Fe. It’s at The Teahouse that I have the fondest memory of Samayya, an ex of mine, and a situation that did not produce a lot of fond memories. The Teahouse had a nice patio though it wasn’t particular comfortable—intentional, maybe, to keep people from staying too long?—and several nooks inside, though it wasn’t particularly comfortable either. The best thing, in my opinion, about The Teahouse, was that they had around 80 different types of teas!
They had various Black teas, Green teas, Flower teas, Infused teas, Matcha’s, Mate’s, Herbal, and more, and every time I went I ordered a different tea. My favorites were the Pu Erh’s, and, more specifically, the Aged Pu Erh’s!
Depending on the location, the demographics, the population, the income, etc., etc., etc., a used bookstore may or may not, support itself, as a bookstore only. As the demand for print, and books continues to rise in the United States, and as we see more and more used bookstores opening their doors all over the country, many of us might recognize, too, that with each bookstore the owner might put a little bit of her, or himself in the strategy as well. We begin to see bookstores coupled with Bike Shops, Vinyl, or even various, random nostalgia; the most common pairing is, of course, coffee. A bookstore/coffeehouse is a fairly common site when visiting new stores opening up.
CommuniTea Books, however, is, as the name might imply, an idea that came to me while sitting one afternoon at The Teahouse in Santa Fe.
Everything I that don’t like about The Teahouse, or other coffeehouses that I’ve been to in Boerne, or throughout the country has allowed me to develop something altogether unique. Why is it that the best and most unique things about coffeehouse is what singles out our favorites, while most coffeehouses still manage to maintain the same unpleasant, strange, stupid, or annoying systems as well? That has never made sense to me. Some might say that it’s those systems that allow a coffeehouse, or a business, in general, to function, but it’s not. It’s not. Those system are merely another system that business owners choose to adopt. Being creative, and even innovative when exploring, and developing an idea is what allows those business to stand out.
CommuniTea Books has more than 80 different types of teas from four different distributors around the world. There are teas that The Teahouse offers that I have intentional, and personally sought out in order to sell at CommuniTea Books, but the majority of my tea menu is different, as far as the specific teas. But, teas! Teas are as unique and individualistic, and interesting as independently owned bookstores, as the eccentricities of a person. Everybody, of course, is familiar with tea: you might enjoy a cup of English Breakfast or Earl Grey in the morning, or Chamomile at night, or Peppermint or some infusion, when you’re feeling sick, but the exclusivity of a teahouse, and one that offers so many different types of teas, is incredible exceptional.
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When I was young, my very early twenties, I moved across the country, on a whim. I ended up staying in a motel in Pocatello, Idaho, bummed around the town a bit, stayed another night, and then another, and another, until I rented an apartment in this old turn of the century hotel-turned-apartment. The building was amazing, it was incredibly out of place in Pocatello, Idaho, unless something was happening at the turn of the century in south eastern Idaho that I'm completely unaware of, it was five stories, it had red velvet carpeting, maroon wallpaper with golden symbol, and trim, gold (painted) radiators on each floor at either end, near the stairs. Each room had a milk door that opened in the kitchen, under the sink, and the corner apartments, such as mine (on the third floor), had an extra small room, three sides where - nearly - floor to ceiling windows, and the fourth 'wall' was a pair of french swinging doors that opened up into the main room of each apartment. Again, the building was amazing, because why else would I spend as much time needlessly describing my apartment in Pocatello, Idaho? It really has nothing at all do with the intent of this blog. That, or I've forgotten completely, where I was going with this...
...right, so I moved to Idaho. I stayed in Pocatello for several months, working the graveyard shift at ConAgra Lamb Weston, a potato processing plant several miles away in American Falls. It was alright, the money was good. I was a machinist. The company closed the plant for the entirety of Easter weekend, and I drove to nearby Idaho Falls, Idaho. It was my first time out there. A lot happened to me in Idaho Falls, in the way of adventures, and stories, and I'm sure I either have told, or will tell, them throughout the course of this (these) blogs, but for the purpose of this blog, of this story, what matters is that while I was in Idaho Falls, I met a girl. And we got married.
Crystal and I know knew each other for five months before, basically, eloping at the Idaho Falls Courthouse. We moved in together, I took a job managing a Hastings, alongside writing, and - here's where any of this becomes relevant - we opened a joint bank account.
When we separated, and subsequently divorced I learned, first hand, how marriage, and divorce can affect your credit score!
And, for years, I wasn't especially concerned with it, the life I was leading (living in New York, writing, basically playing the role of a 'starving artist,' in New York City), my credit score was only imaginary number attached to my imaginary number that is my social security number. It didn't have a direct effect - at the time.
I knew that one day I would sit down, and work it out, and eventually start my bookstore, but I never realized that that one day would come so soon, and I was completely unprepared!
I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in a two bedroom house with my girlfriend, and two of her three kids, at the time, and I was completely miserable, and alone, as well as being emotionally abused, and manipulated by one of the worlds greatest harbingers of manipulation, control, and hatred, I mean, she was masterful at this practice, and all in the guise of an unassuming 5'3' Swedish/Spanish dark haired, dark eyed, mousy Muslim woman. I threw myself entirely into this bookstore, because I needed to escape, and my bookstore became my mind palace, and comfort zone.
Of course, when it came time, once I moved back to Boerne, and physically escaped from my mousy capture, I was still obsessed with opening Wardrobe Books, and eventually CommuniTea Books, until it came time to find funding and, after studying the SBA (Small Business Association) website, and applying for loan options through them, and walking through the doors of a bank in San Antonio Texas my credit score still didn't concern me all that much. Yes, it was on my mind, but I would sit down and look at my business plan, think about the truths surrounding the economy, and the town, and the changes, and honestly, to me, and to several business owners that I talked to around town (even though it was a bookstore, and, in Texas, books are still 'a thing of the past,' the resurgence had not yet breached the boundaries of the Lone Star state, or at least beyond Larry McMurtry's, and Archer City's Booked Up, or Austin's Book People), it seemed like a bad idea not to open a bookstore. My Financial Adviser spoke with me, in detail, he loved my business plan, he saw everything that I did, in the way of a successful small business venture, only his manager, and the bank couldn't see past a three digit number that was a bit lower than they were used to seeing attached to people in my position. So I walked out of that bank, a little deterred.
Banks, however, are not the only avenue to find small business funding!
PeopleFund and LiftFund
I pursued every avenue, simultaneously. And I sought advice from local business owners, and prominent businessmen and women throughout the Texas Hill Country.
Gust.com (and others), but Gust is like LinkedIN for people looking for angel investors. You create a profile, include several key aspects of your business, and you network. It's really an amazing platform, my only issue with it is that it works better, if not only, for people who are equally as capable getting a loan from a bank. Which seems strange to me, I mean, yes I understand that people may not want to go the route of procuring a loan from a bank, but why Angel Invest then? The risk is smaller, maybe, but at what cost? Venture Capitalist, it's the same story.
PeopleFund and LiftFund are fantastic avenues, and they had a means to help me through my credit score issue, which resulted in me starting a Crowd Funding campaign, and in the process I did actually use both KickStarter and crowdfunding.com.
Silent Partners, and Family & Friends is still probably the best way to go, however some people, like me, are, either: not in the position to ask certain family members, or you maintain 'Black Sheep' status in your family. I'm not the Black Sheep because I'm odd, or un-relateable, I'm the Black Sheep because I've always found it difficult to open up to my family. It's inherent, and one of the few inherent interpersonal issues that has shadowed me throughout my entire life (and not necessarily a developed trauma created by the dark witch of Santa Fe).
In one way or another my credit score failed me in almost every attempt, but, in part, only because people are still nervous to invest in a book/used book focused venture, despite the growing number of used bookstores, the increase in book sales, and the decrease of eBook sales: we have been told, for the last 10 years, that books, that print, that publishing is an outdated, thing-of-the-past, and often, quite simply, we've been conditioned to believe it, instead, even, of believing our own eyes and ears as the industry is proving otherwise.
So, what did I do?
My debt wasn't magnificent. I owed a couple thousands dollars, and once that was eradicated, I could, then focus on that score - that credit score.
I took another job. The focus of the 'other' job was to throw money, all of that income, at my debt, and my credit score, to rebuild it, as quickly, and efficiently as possible. And what better place than Amazon! Right?
If you're in an industry, you need to start learning, and you never stop, you always grow, you always allow for change, you always need to understand how to do things better, and why some things work, and others do not. I wanted to know as much as I could about my industry. Period. And Amazon has, in a lot of ways, reestablished my industry.
I would let Amazon pay me to learn, and then I would come out of that better, stronger, and more equipped to open the best new, used, remainder, rare, and collectible bookstore, and teahouse ever.
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The Boerne Emporium was a there story multi-vendor shop in the heart of The Hill Country Mile in Boerne, Texas. The location was phenomenal, but downtown Boerne has been known, until recently, for the antique shops, and the boutiques. This has been the story for The Hill Country Mile since before I can remember, and I moved to Boerne, for the first time, in 1993. Of course being a kid or a teenager in Boerne in the mid too late 90's wasn't exceptional. In fact, it was downright boring, at the time the only thing that I could appreciate along Main Street, and especially along The Hill Country Mile, was The Bear Moon Bakery, and that was, you know, a bakery, and a coffeehouse, and I likely enjoyed going there only because I wasn't the typical small town teenage boy, and neither were my friends.
Boerne, Texas has too many boutique, and antique shops, simply because Boerne lacks an identity, as a town, and for decades made-do by following the path of slightly larger, and more well-known, German town, about an hour away, Fredricksburg. Which not only had the identity of being an antique town, but it served them too, even still.
Boerne, not so much. And now it's changing, and growing too quickly to keep up, our identity remains with our public schools, which isn't going to work anymore.
As a result, The Boerne Emporium was closed, and the building was sold. And Wardrobe Books, my beta bookstore was no more, at least physically. We (I) still maintained an online presence, but that too started changing because Abebooks was no longer working for me as a eCommerce platform.
It seemed as if everything I had built was disappearing.
And it might have, entirely, if I didn't realize that it was only because, until now, I wasn't willing to change, or rather, that I didn't realize, practically, that I needed to. I had not tweaked anything, I just opened the doors, and said "Come." And this was the same mistake that Read All About It made, and apparently, some other independently owned bookstore that I've heard rumors about, which had both opened, and closed their doors while I was living on the distant shores of elsewhere.
Unforeseen changes, and failure, if approached a certain way, lead to the best lessons, and improvements in your business, and they have for me, both in my personal life, and for CommuniTea Books.
The closing of Wardrobe Books, and the changes that I would have to make with the website, led to a conversation that I had with a handful of people, and this conversation led me into a new chapter, and through the front doors of a bank that, through their rejection, inspired avenues that I would have never imagined existed, let alone considered...
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I sold books online. And the process was time consuming. Abebooks.com has a reputation, among collectors, as a site for rare and collectible books, people do sell the average book, but only because it's so commonly referred to in the book world.
A few years ago Amazon bought Abebooks.com, and, of course, my initial reaction was frustration, irritation, a little shock - for whatever reason - ultimately, it didn't make a difference, the site isn't run all that differently, and the same people are "In Charge." ...but this blog isn't, particularly, about Amazon, or Abebooks.com, I uploaded hundreds of books, one-by-one online: I went into detail abou the condition of the books, and listed author, ISBN, title, edition, format, price, the process was unbelievable. I reached a point though where I realized that selling books online wasn't the avenue that I wanted to pursue, and I started considering different avenues while I went through the process of developing the actual storefront.
I looked into selling books from my trunk, and did, on several occasions, use my car as a mobile bookstore. I thought about buying a truck that I could convert into a bookstore. I even toyed with the idea of setting up a shop in the foyer of my house, an idea that I referred to as Blue Door Books, on account of my blue front door.
There is always another way to get your business off the ground, and being creative about it, can develop into something more than what you had originally imagined.
I moved back to Boerne, Texas, making the drive in a 10" U-Haul filled with a few personal items: clothes, a flat-screen TV, a guitar, a banjo, my djembe, but the space was occupied by dozens, and dozens, and dozens of boxes of books -- I had over a hundred boxes full of books.
The idea of selling books mobile never left my mind, and I looked into that - and still do - within the first few days of resting my head on the pillow in my new place in good ol' Boerne, Texas. In the meantime I also looked into renting space in multi-vendor shops in town. There were at least three multi-vendor shops right on, or just off of Main Street in Boerne, and I thought it would be a good way to gauge my customer base, to experiment with new marketing techniques, and to establish myself in town.
I initially agreed on a small space on the 2nd floor of the most traveled of the three, The Boerne Emporium. When I say small, I do mean, it was quite small. It was the size of a closet. After I had built, and stocked the shelves, the was room enough inside for two people, cramped. It was a closet, so it was only fitting to name the place, Wardrobe Books.
The benefit, I decided, to utilizing a space that was so small to start a business, was that the majority of my time could be devoted to understanding my market. I explored different marketing techniques, and demographics, I tried different ways to bring people into the building, and upstairs, specifically to my bookstore, to Wardrobe Books.
It was an enjoyable challenge coming up with new ways to convince people to walk into this three story multi-vendor building Main Street, to disregard everything they see on the first, and second floors, and to walk to the end of the hall, and explore a closet, and of books no less. A product that the media, and the conversation, has told us is "a thing of the past." "On it's way out."
In this closet I could only display a third of my inventory, so I eventually moved into a room, around the corner from my closet, that - for all intents, and purposes - was perfect for Wardrobe Books (for what I was trying to do, at the time). I was able to display the majority of the inventory I had, then. I built the shelves, just as I had in the closet, with ply board and bricks, and I challenged myself to recognize the differences, all the differences, from marketing to clientele, that the move, and the room size would make.
This was all in beta.
I was selling only used, and remainder books, and through the limited space and inventory, the intent would be to see who shopped there, how often, and what they bought. What are the differences between the authors, and titles, and genres, that sold in Boerne vs. Salt Lake City, Utah; New York City, New York; and Santa Fe, New Mexico? How could I predict that, and was it possible to manipulate what sold, if II could introduce new interests and tastes into the market.
If I could through this beta version of my bookstore, I would try to learn to gauge whether introducing teas, and tea smoothies, and coffees, into the equation would make a difference, or enough of a difference, assuming books wouldn't pay the rent on their own.
...then again, I thought, the whole point of this is to create a place that is a town center, a hub, and something Boerne has never seen before.
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I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico when I wrote the business plan, when I finally decided to take the first steps of leg work to pursue what had become a longtime developing dream.
While researching market strategy, and demographics it became clear to me that Santa Fe may not be the market that I should open this bookstore in. I loved the city different, and I wasn't eager to leave it, but I knew that because the needs of Santa Fe's 75,000 people were more than met by Op. Cit. Books, Collected Works, Garcia Street Books, The Ark, Gunstock, Big Star, Books of Interest, Travel Bug, Nicholas Potter, Bee Hive, Book Mountain, Bennett Books, and more.
If I wanted to open my bookstore I realized that I would have to leave this city that I'd come to love in order to do it.
I spent as much time, and resources as I was able to understand the demographics of the United States: buying habits, income, interests, growth, education, population, and what any particular market needed, whether that market knew it, or not.
You can stroll into a town and there might be a restaurant on every corner, many of them with a similar menu, identical even, there might be coffeehouses like there are gas stations, and each and every individual business could the thriving. So, what makes those business work, while others fail?
Where do business owners go wrong?
I'd suggest that it all starts with the business plan. Every business owner develops a plan for their business, though some plans - such as mine - are 30 pages, while others draft out at less than 1, neither represents a clear indication of whether a business will fail or succeed. In many cases even, the less detailed business plan might be more likely to develop into a sustainable business than the more detailed 30 page plan. Why?
You, and your plan need to allow room, not only for growth, but to change. You have to be willing to look at your plan and see it as an outline, this is a guide. My business plan lays out daily routines, such as mopping the floor, washing dishes, shelving books, but even the seemingly necessary day-to-day chores need to be allowed to be flexible.
Why is it that Barnes&Noble is still open, when Borders Books went bankrupt? They both sold new books at list price, they both sold the same authors and the same titles, they both used an eReader (Barnes&Noble invested in creating their own, NOOK; while Borders partnered with SONY, which may have had a slight impact but not considerable).
eReaders did not play as much of a role in the print/book market as many people believe that they did. Print is fine, it dropped a little, it changed even, and then came back. Newspapers are struggling but that suggest more a change in the information industry not necessarily print. Amazon introduced a different way to buy, and a different way to publish, but ultimately what allowed print and Barnes&Noble to favor was their adaptability.
When you write your business plan, when you build, and develop your business, regardless of what type of business it is, you are going to have to learn how to let it change, and if your business plan can reflect that, you are already a step, or two, ahead of the game.
I could have stayed in Santa Fe, and opened CommuniTea Books there, and learned how to change, and compete with other businesses - other bookstores. I had a vision for my store, and part of that vision, part of my plan was to provide something to a community that didn't have it. And I did not know that right away. While I was writing my plan I originally did so with the intention of opening in Santa Fe, and then I redid the number in order to open a store in the Bay Area, California; which is, essentially, the bookstore capitol of the world, but then I realized that I wanted CommuniTea Books to be a town center, and not just for books, I wanted to provide something in a small, rural, artsy, city that needed an identity. I looked at Missoula, Montana; Amherst, Massachusetts; Astoria, Oregon; Spokane, Washington; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Savannah, Georgia.
I discovered a niche that hadn't really existed before, and I developed the need. My business plan became a map for me to do that, because I saw it, not as a step-by-step system, but as a means to visualize my goal, and to be creative, wherever I could.
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I love bookstores because they provide a unique, inviting, and comfortable place for a community. Communities are often built around bookstores: around the theme, the events, the engagement and interaction that cannot help but take place at a bookstore.
At CommuniTea Books in Boerne we'll provide Author Events and Lectures. During my travels in Salt Lake City, New York City, and Santa Fe, I went to events meeting, and getting to know, authors such as: Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, Lee Child, Dan Brown, Junot Diaz, Michael Chabon, Sam Shepherd (He is missed), Stephanie Myers ( I know), Lydia Davis, Cormac McCarthy, David Lipsky, Robert Mayer, Armistead Maupin, Bob Shacochis, and more, and we'll struggle to bring them read, and sign books. We'll also provide a place for local authors to read, and to sign their books.
We'll host writing workshops, classes (of all sorts: cooking, yoga, writing, etc.), book clubs, writing clubs, and TED Events.
We'll host live music, and open mics (music, reading, etc.)
CommuniTea Books, as well as all bookstores, are where people go to remember what it is to be human, together. There are no places like them in the world, and each are unique, and provide something that no other bookstore, or place, can.
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I had wanted to open a bookstore for some time now, but it remained only a dream that I would pursue sometime many years from now, perhaps after publishing my first, second, or third novel, or perhaps I'd consider settling down after I had spent a year, or three, living on a sailboat while sailing around the Mediterranean. Either way, until that point, the bookstore would be my endgame.
I was sitting at home, in Santa Fe, I had just put my girlfriends kids to bed - you see, she works nights, she's a waitress, and she was working, at the time, at Joseph's Table, one of the best, new restaurants in Santa Fe, so homework, dinner, and bedtime, were my responsibility, only after getting off work at the bookstore, of course. Anyway, I was sitting in the living room, questioning my existence one evening, suffering writers block, struggling with a story that I had been working on for days to no avail, and I decided that I would start writing a business plan.
So I opened WORD and I realized that I had absolutely no idea whatsoever where to begin. I had written short, one page business plans to guide a marketing micro-business, or to promote my writing career occasionally, but nothing to the scale of the bookstore that I had created in my head, in my dreams. So I Googled a business plan template, read through a few of them, considered what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it, and I decided on one that, though extensive, would illustrate every aspect of the bookstore. Down to the day-to-day operations.
And, I just started writing.
I skipped parts that focused on marketing analysis, and demographics, because it would require more in-depth research, and, at the time, that evening, it wasn't something I wanted to explore. If I had ideas I would make notes, and then move on.
Three hours later I had an outline for my bookstore. Parts of the plan, so far, were pretty detailed, ideas about the bookstore that I had been considering since working at Borders nearly ten years earlier. I knew what I wanted to do, and what I didn't want to do, but instead of spewing all of it out right then, I would give myself a starting point that I could develop.
I thought about the plan pretty much constantly. The bookstore that I had imagined for years was becoming a reality, on paper, and in my head, from the foundation up. I sit and stare out the window and see only people browsing shelves that had not yet been built, I would stand at the register at Op. Cit. Books and imagine that I was ringing customers up at MY bookstore.
And, every night after work, after homework, after dinner, after the exceptional hassle that is bedtime, I would sit down, and I would continue working on The Business Plan. I would write, and research, and calculate, and invent, from the moment the kids were in bed until my girlfriend got home between midnight and one o'clock, every night. I did this for months, writing, and re-writing, imagining, and re-imagining.
This bookstore would be a reflection of me, and of my community, and everything that bookstore once were.
City Lights, Sam Wellers', Moe's, Tattered Cover, Books Inc., Changing Hands, The Strand, Booked Up, Shakespeare & Co., Powell's, Op. Cit. Books, Moby Dickens, Books of Wonder...and CommuniTea Books.