New Bookstores Focus On Niche Markets In Challenging Industry

Filed Under: More News, Featured Stories

In the early ’90s, the American Booksellers Association had more than 5,000 members. Three decades later, the count was down to 1,700. But despite the challenges facing modern booksellers, there are always people brave enough to try opening a new bookstore. Here’s what two of them, who both opened stores on Cape Cod a year ago, have to say. 

Stefanie Corbin, Owner of Footprints Cafe43 Main St., Buzzards Bay (footprintscafellc.com/ footprintscafellc@gmail.com, 508-743-5116).

Stephanie Corbin scaledStephanie CorbinWhen did you open?

We opened our physical doors April 24, 2021. It was also Independent Bookstore Day, so it was a great time to start.

What sets your store apart? 

My bookstore is one of four Black-owned bookstores in the state and the only one on the south coast of Massachusetts. My bookstore specifically caters to the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] community. The majority of the books on my shelves are written by BIPOC authors with stories representing the BIPOC community. My mission is to create a safe, inviting space for the BIPOC community, where they can see themselves on my shelves. Representation matters, and from the positive response I have received from the community, this was much needed in this area. 

What made you want to do this? 

I was laid off as a restaurant manager during the pandemic. There were no restaurant jobs available due to the shutdown, so I decided to follow my 20-year-old dream of opening my own business. With the murder of George Floyd happening at the same time, and the intense amount of racism both the country and my kids were experiencing, I knew it was time to open my bookstore for the community. I wanted to amplify the BIPOC community’s voices and provide a space where they could see themselves on the shelves and where the stories represent them. 

Did you face any unexpected challenges? 

I did. After working on my business plan for a few months and submitting it to the Small Business Administration for a small business loan, I was told due to the pandemic and the current state of the economy, I would not be able to receive a loan. That was a severe hindrance to my plans. After taking a few days to get over that news, I decided to still move forward, using my personal funds. 

Why are independent bookstores important? 

Independent bookstores are an essential part of the community. They are not just retail stores, they’re about the importance of relationships and community connection. Eventually, we will have in-person events for book readings for both adults and children, which will bring the community together and for folks to get to know their neighbors. Indie booksellers provide personal recommendations for books while also connecting with the customers. I have regular customers who I greet by name. I know their kids’ and grandkids’ names and the types of books they like. This personal touch is important to customers. 

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year? 

Fiction: “The Love Songs of W.E. B. Dubois” by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers! By far, hands down, an absolutely amazing book!  Nonfiction: “Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City” by Andrea Elliott

What’s a book you’re eager to recommend? 

Nonfiction: “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander (will blow your mind). Fiction: “No Light to Land On” by Yara Zgheib 

Kristen Young, owner of Below the Brine Bookshop, 554 Route 28, Harwich Port (belowthebrinebookshop.com, read@harwichportbooks.com, 774-209-3493)

kristenyoung scaled

When did you open?

We opened on Sunday, May 30, 2021 of Memorial Day Weekend Memorial Weekend.

What sets your store apart?

We’re a very small store in a high foot-traffic area, so we have to be especially thoughtful about our inventory. We work hard to keep our selection fresh, so customers can always find new titles on our shelves, and we strive to have something for all interests. We try especially hard to make sure kids of all backgrounds can find characters they identify with in our children’s section. Another thing that makes us unique is our physical space. My husband, who’s a builder, crafted all of our furniture and shelving by hand, using wood he reclaimed during the renovation of our 19th century Harwich Port home, where we live just down the street from the shop. It gives the store a really warm, inviting feel, with a little touch of Harwich Port history. 

What made you want to do this?

I’d always thought that opening a bookstore would be a dream, but never gave it serious consideration until COVID hit. I had left my full time job just before the start of the pandemic and ended up staying at home with my two young daughters for the rest of 2020, while they were homeschooling. It gave me a chance to really think about what I wanted to do next. Harwich Port has been building a name for itself as a fun, vibrant destination, with so many new shops and restaurants opening just within the past few years. I just love the energy here and saw a new bookstore as a way to contribute to that. There was a small space available in a fantastic location, so I talked about it with my husband, and we made the leap. 

Did you face any unexpected challenges?

Our biggest challenge was our opening day, which fell on an extremely busy Memorial Weekend. I had been up until midnight all week putting books on the shelves and getting the store ready, then we had a major technical issue with our point-of-sale system, which was resolved literally as our first customers were walking through the door. On top of that, our very first day ended up being one of our highest volume days for the entire year. I’d never worked in retail before doing this, so it really was a learn-as-you-go, trial-by-fire experience. Overall, it was a stressful, exhilarating, wonderful day. 

What did you do before?

I’ve done a little bit of several things, all having to do with language and storytelling. After graduating from college, I worked for a few years as a middle and high school English teacher, then found my way into communications and eventually journalism, most recently working as a staff writer for the Cape Cod Times before opening Below the Brine. 

Why are independent bookstores important?

Locally-owned businesses of any kind are so important for maintaining the character and vitality of a community. In addition to keeping local money circulating within a community, local businesses donate to local causes. In our case, we haven’t been open for a full year, and already we’ve participated along with other local bookstores in two book drives to benefit children in our community, with a third drive on the horizon. We’ve also donated to local housing, social justice and food-bank related non-profits. Independent bookstores help to promote the work of local authors. We’re lucky to have many talented writers here on the Cape. You can walk into any independent bookstore on Cape Cod and find wonderful books that you’d never find in a big chain store, or that you might not stumble upon by browsing the web. 

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?

I’m going to say “Finding the Mother Tree” by Suzanne Simard, which is the fascinating story of Simard’s forest ecology research in British Columbia, Canada. Her experiments proved that trees actually communicate and trade resources through complex root systems and fungal networks, which of course, as Simard iterates throughout the book, is something Indigenous communities have understood for centuries, but that western forestry practices have been slow to come around to. Simard intertwines her own life story with the story of her research, ultimately showing us that humans and trees both thrive and are healthiest when we’re connected into a web of family and community. It might sound odd to describe a non-fiction book about trees as a compelling tearjerker, but this book definitely hit that mark. 

What’s a book you’re eager to recommend?

A book I frequently find myself recommending is “From the Farther Shore: Discovering Cape Cod & the Islands Through Poetry,” which is printed through an organization affiliated with the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. Many of the poets featured in the book are local, and the anthology does a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the Cape’s varied landscapes. It’s a great book for visitors and locals alike. It really captures the soul of this place we all love.


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