Christine Onorati runs Word bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Do you see the store as more than just a business? And if so, how? Actually, I was having trouble thinking about how I show my creative side at work. I sometimes confuse creativity with artistic ability. But you have to be creative in this day and age if you want your bookstore to be successful. I can’t speak for all bookstores, but the most important thing for me is becoming a part of the community. Books are ubiquitious –- you can get them from so many different places. That’s why you have to give people a reason to come to your store other than to just get a book. I think we’re getting good at creating a community feel about the store. I’ve been in a lot of stores where I don’t want to stick around. I want people to feel at home in my store. That’s why we have different fun events. And especially in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, you never want to be too cool. If someone wants to order a Danielle Steele book, we might not have it at the store, but we’re happy to order it and we’d never judge anyone about something like that. Definitely the hardest part of running the store is thinking about ways to integrate into the community.
Have you ever read a novel that influenced the way you think about running the store? I don’t think so. There is a really great book, though, that was written twenty years ago, called Rebel Bookseller by Andrew Laties. I remember reading it years ago. A lot of what he wrote about running a story is not relevant in the same way anymore. The book was written when the big box stores were just starting to come in. E-books are much bigger now. Ten, twenty years ago it was Barnes & Noble eating up the indies. I read stuff in that book about serving the customer and being there for the customer. I used to have another store in the suburbs. I didn’t feel people felt the need to appreciate independent stores out there. Everyone was in cars. There wasn’t the same connection. I think I’m in a community now that appreciates independent businesses. Reading Rebel Bookseller gave me some ideas about how to foster and reciprocate that kind of appreciation.
What’s the last creative thing that you did? Last night we threw, a literary matchmaker prom. It was fun. A couple of the girls got really dolled up. It was like a singles mixer for literary types. That’s an example of the kind of thing I’m talking about — a way of getting the community invested in the store. We’ve actually had a few successful love stories that come about because of the store. That kind of stuff makes me so happy. I think those things add up. People will think of us a certain way, and when they need books, I hope they’ll come here. It’s a hard balance. People open bookstores thinking it’ll be fun –- you’ll stand around and talk about books. But you need to have a business sense. It’s not enough to open doors and put books on the shelves. This isn’t an easy business, but I think we’re doing the right things.