The Oracle speaks with SSEF Children’s and Literacy Book Fest Official Sponsor: “Little Shop of Stories”
On Saturday, October 13, 2018, the fifth annual Sandy Springs Education Force Footprints for the Future (SSEF) 10K and 5K road race was followed by the SSEF’s first ever Children’s Book Festival and Literacy Event.
Attendees had opportunities to meet and talk with children’s literature authors and illustrators; festivities included a book character dress up parade, arts and crafts, a book sale, and events hosted by various children’s authors and illustrators from the city.
The staff of North Springs’ Echo Literary Magazine and Oracle Web Zine had the good fortune of speaking with authors, illustrators, and others associated with the event. This is the first of those interviews.
Little Shop of Stories
Justin Colussy-Estes, Store Manager
Interview by Alma Kent
The Oracle: What is the Little Shop of Stories?
Little Shop: We are an independent children’s bookstore. By independent, it means we are individually owned and operated, unaffiliated with any national book chain or retailer. By children’s bookstore, we mean that where most bookstores have inventory that is 80% adult titles of various sorts (fiction and nonfiction shelved by specific categories like mystery or travel) and 20% aimed at kids of various ages, we are the flip of that: 75-80% of our books are aimed at kids, with sections devoted to board books, picture books, midgrade fiction, series, YA, and kids nonfiction (among others), with the remaining percentage devoted to the general interests of adults.
The Oracle: Where is it located and who are the customers?
Little Shop: We’re located on the square in downtown Decatur, on the east side of Atlanta inside the beltway. We like to say our customers are “kids and the grownups they become.” We have books for newborns up through adulthood, and our customers are the kids, families, and adults who live, work, and visit Decatur.
The Oracle: What is your philosophy the role of booksellers today, especially for independent book stores?
Little Shop: We are first and foremost a neighborhood bookstore– in addition to providing books we think folks in the community want and are interested in, we work closely with schools, the city of Decatur, and local businesses to create exciting book-related events and activities. All great independent bookstores are neighborhood bookstores – their inventory and programming speak to the interests and needs of the community or communities they serve.
We have story times four times a week, multiple author and non-author events a month, book groups for all kinds of readers from kids to adults, as well as book fairs for schools. In this way, we do things that Amazon cannot do– Amazon cannot bring an author to your school or library or host an author event, Amazon cannot help foster conversations around books and ideas through hosting book groups or suggesting a book that would not be prompted by algorithms. Barnes & Nobles has some of these kinds of programs, but corporate entities, whether they are bookstores or other retailers, aren’t motivated to understand and involve themselves in the community the way a locally owned and operated independent retailer is.
For instance, [we hosted] Kidtoberfest, a mini-festival on the Decatur square that’s a benefit for the Decatur High School German club and our community-wide reading program On The Same Page. Kidtoberfest is a kid and family focused event occurring before the Beer Festival, in which we have lots of different root beers and bratwursts and games. We put together this event, not because it’s a book-thing, but because it’s a fun idea we came up with the celebrate Decatur and help some deserving organizations in the meantime.
The Oracle: Is it tough to compete with other markets like Amazon and Barnes & Noble?
Little Shop: We serve the community in ways that wouldn’t even occur to the likes of Amazon. Our philosophy, simply put, is that books are best shared– either with friends, or family, or a whole community. And that’s a mission better achieved through the work we do here as a neighborhood bookstore than through what algorithms glean from a user interface.
Kids are captivated at a “Little Shop” reading event
The Oracle: Why do you think books are important and how do we get more kids to read?
Little Shop: [Getting] kids to read– it’s about two things– helping every kid, or, more generally, person–find the perfect book for their reading level and interests, AND it’s about fostering a culture in which reading and books specifically are valued. We work with librarians and teachers and families to help create a world in which kids are not only reading, but sharing what they read. If everyone reads, then anyone coming into that environment, kids and adults, discovers a space where they are encouraged to not only read books, but encouraged to engage in that book culture.
The Oracle: How did you get involved in the SSEF Literary Festival and what is your role (both individually and the store as a whole?)
Little Shop: They approached us to be the bookseller because we have experience with multi-author events and book festivals. We were so thrilled to be asked, in part because we love all celebrations of authors and books, but also because, in Sandy Springs we see a “sister city” to Decatur– a space devoted to fostering ideas of community through things like the SSEF.
The Oracle: What else do you want our readers to know about the store and the festival?
Little Shop: The festival was great fun! We are so excited for its future and our continued involvement with it. As for what else you should know about our store– come visit, or, for a good sense of the kinds of authors and events we host (including LOTS of YA authors), look at our website: www.littleshopofstories.com.
Special thanks to Miriam Salpeter, Marketing Director for the Sandy Springs Education Force, and to Mr. Hanson.