Read With Me, the children’s bookstore opening in downtown Raleigh this spring, will not have a cafe.
Downtown has plenty of those already, says owner Christine Brenner, and she wants to use all 1,200 square feet just for books, workshops and cozy reading nooks.
Brenner has April 7 in mind for the opening – to be part of the first Friday events in April – with a sneak preview ahead of that for those who give generously to the store’s indiegogo campaign.
Of course, timetables can change, but over coffee at The Morning Times on a recent morning, an excited Brenner said work on the store is coming along on schedule, with the push now to finish the painting and get the bookshelves in place and well stocked.
“I’m going to shoot for 1,500 books,” she said.
A former librarian at Davis Drive Elementary School in Cary, Brenner says she wants to know what’s on the shelves so she can recommend with confidence. “If your son says ‘I love space,’ I want to be able to say, ‘You need to check out this book.’ ”
Brenner, 38, said she and her husband, Jonathon, who works at Cisco Systems, have long talked about owning a bookstore when they retired. But with retirement still a distant spot on the horizon, the dream took on a life of its own after a trip two years ago to Knoxville.
She was sitting outside a bookstore there with her son, leafing through their new purchases, when she turned to him and asked, “Ethan, what do you think if we open our own children’s bookstore?”
Ethan’s answer: “Yeah, that’d be cool, mom.”
With her then 3-year-old son on board, she broached the idea with her husband, whose response was even more enthusiastic.
The couple has spent the two years since working up a business plan, finding a site, getting loans – all a challenge for any small business but one made even more so by Brenner’s chosen business.
She says she ran into two trains of thought: Those who thought it an amazing idea and those who said “You’re definitely going to have a cafe, right?”
The couple did run the numbers on a cafe and found it just didn’t make sense.
When the spot at 111 E. Hargett St., near Marbles, the popular children’s museum, became available, the final piece fell in place.
“I knew if it was going to work and we wanted to be downtown, we had to be near Marbles and build off of some of the excitement they have had,” she said.
She plans to stock books from birth to age 17, although there will be some titles related to parenting, writing and appreciating the arts aimed at adults. She’ll offer writing and illustrating workshops and sponsor book clubs. Her goal, she said, is to have a place where children know they are respected.
“They deserve that dignity and respect, and sometimes they don’t get it,” she said. “They get brushed off for just being a kid. ... I think they’re important.”
For those who question opening a bookstore in the age of e-readers and Amazon, Brenner has a simple answer: “There is still a core need and love of the print book, and that’s not going to go away.”
I wish that there were as many bookstores as there are bars.
Christine Brenner, owner of Read With Me
Data backs her up. A Pew Research Center survey of 1,520 Americans released last fall found that 73 percent had read a book in the past year, a share unchanged since 2012. The report added that “when people reach for a book, it is much more likely to be a traditional print book than a digital product.” According to the report, 65 percent had read a print book in the last year, more than double the share that had read an e-book and more than four times the share that had listened to an audiobook.
Brenner thinks that the need to hold a book is particularly true when it comes to children’s literature. Children are tactile, they want to touch things, she says. As for parents: “You have to sit and look through it to see if it speaks to you because you know you’re going to be reading it over and over a lot. You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I love this enough to read it 100 times?’ ”
With the indiegogo campaign recently launched, Brenner hopes to generate excitement for the store as well as funding.
“The store is not dependent on the campaign; we have the lease,” she said. “We are learning who is really excited about it through the campaign. Even if people can’t contribute, they are contacting me about it. But certainly every dollar helps with the bottom line. ... With bookstores, the profit margins are really tight.”
She’s also encouraged by the number of independent bookstores in the Triangle, seeing them as evidence of the area’s love of books, not competition.
“I wish that there were as many bookstores as there are bars,” she said. “Local bookstores encourage their communities to value literacy, creativity and free expression. I hope our opening will be a great complement to other businesses downtown.”
And she already has one helper in place. Ethan, who starts kindergarten in August, will be in the store a lot, she said, and already has his role planned out: “He wants to read to the little kids. Just the babies.”
Want to help?
The indiegogo campaign web address is: http://nando.com/4i1