Two Friends, Pearl proves that printed books are still popular

Buying books in our digital world is easier than ever.

At your fingertips are increasingly quick and easy ways to get the latest story, especially from giants Amazon and Barnes & Noble Booksellers, with e-book devices and apps, audiobook services and such mailing lists that alert avid readers to pop-up deals, ways to find books at super low prices, and start reading or listening right away from their smart phones.

The many options have, yes, overall led to a drop in the number of open bookstores across the country. Some sources say that number is about half of what it was in 1997. And when you sort by independent bookstores, well, it’s no longer certain that there will be a non-Barnes & Noble in a given city.

But in Northwest Arkansas, we have a variety of independent bookstores.

Avid readers go out of their way to support these local institutions, which provide community in the form of book clubs, author events, and the simple yet effective personal connection of recommendations and discussions about your next great read.

TWO FRIENDS

In 2018, Monica Diodati and Rachel Stuckey-Slaton booked the Onyx Coffee Lab community room in Bentonville for two days, laid out something like 150 or 200 books, and sold them to passers-by.

Many of the titles came from their personal collections, things they had read or that friends and family had previously owned, as well as a few donations. They were mostly second-hand books, and they were priced with little paper labels stuck to the spine with handwritten numbers on them.

The whole production was a way of bringing up the possibility of something they had discussed at length as members of the book club that started their friendship: opening an independent bookstore in Bentonville, which had none. at the time.

“The idea for a pop-up event was low-stakes, and we’ve done it multiple times,” Diodati says. At the time, she missed The Wild Detectives, a bookstore/bar/performer in Dallas, a place she frequented when she lived in the area. She describes it as a kind of second living room, where you could have a glass of wine and sit down to read.

Diodati was surprised to find that doing ephemeral book sales was fun and not scary, contrary to what she imagined at the time when opening a storefront.

“We weren’t retail bosses,” laughs Rachel Stuckey-Slaton. They weren’t tracking inventory yet, nor were they experienced in retail. So they faced a huge learning curve as they dipped their toes into the bookstore ecosystem.

A small Dallas press sent Diodati and Slaton a box of bestsellers, giving them a chance to expand their selection without having to pay too much money if they didn’t sell everything.

“They were like ‘Here, take this and sell it; we love what you do and hope you can have a store one day,” recalls Stuckey-Slaton. she says.

After a few pop-ups, the couple have established a semi-permanent space by occupying a small nook at the front of the Airship Coffee in Bentonville.

“There was a group that was thrilled to have a bookstore in Bentonville, and that gave us confidence from customers who were great and supportive,” Diodati said. The biggest supporters were calling and asking for things they hadn’t already given away, like a bespoke basket of books to give to a colleague, for example.

During that time, they got a lot of help learning the ropes of the supply chain from former booksellers, like Lisa Sharp of Nightbird Books, Fayetteville, and existing bookstores, like Common Place in Oklahoma City. They created accounts with publishers, joined the American Booksellers Association, and learned the backend, more business aspects, on the fly.

Having a regular place to sell their books has opened the doors to more community events, starting with a Saturday morning story hour for children, open mic nights, poetry workshops and readings. of authors.

Two friends made the jump to Southwest B Street in Bentonville, securing a small brick and mortar to them, just as the pandemic entered full containment, but they found it did not negatively affect their sales.

“The industry did very well. People were stuck at home and wanted to pick up a book,” Stuckey-Slaton said. Adjusting to safety measures meant only two people could safely browse the store at a time, and they asked every customer to wear a mask. Stuckey-Slaton and Diodati made good use of the breezeway next to their store and built a patio/deck to allow for safer gatherings.

They also launched the Sospeso board, an Italian tradition of paying for a friend’s coffee or book and leaving it at the store to pick it up whenever you want, to keep people connected even when they’re away.

This year, Two Friends moved to their largest location yet as part of the 8th Street Market, where they doubled their storage space. They also have a presence in other locations around town, including the Blake Street Library and run sales selections for Bloom Flowers and Gifts and BRIKA and Wylde Pop-Up.

“The most exciting thing was the (change of) the kids’ zone,” says Diodati. “We have so many families with children that the demand was there. We had so little real estate before that it’s nice to have a whole space where the children can lie on a rug and read… or a 12-year-old can sit at the (café) bar and finish the next in a series.”

PEARLS

A year and a few months ago, Leah and Daniel Jordan were preparing for the first day of Pearl’s Books. The bookstore was scheduled to open Oct. 2 on Center Street in Fayetteville, just off the downtown plaza. They felt a very welcoming sense of anticipation and went ahead and opened their doors in mid-September.

“We were in the ‘it would be fun to…’ phase for years,” Daniel Jordan said. “We had dreamed of something like this. We thought, ‘Maybe when we retire…or never.'”

The pandemic has changed the mindset of the Jordans. The married couple were working from home and it changed everything they thought about their careers. They were both on-campus faculty advisors at the University of Arkansas, and while they enjoyed the work and the people around them, they had been in the gigs for a while.

Being out of the office has changed the perspective of what their professional life could be like. It got Daniel Jordan thinking that maybe now was a good time to try a dream job – but not without a bit of conviction.

“Leah has always been the dreamer in the relationship that drives us forward,” he says. “It’s easy for her to visualize and act.” But Daniel, the more pragmatic, was slower to pull himself together. “I had never owned a business before. I wanted to stay in my comfort zone.”

Leah’s vision for a boutique, coupled with the pandemic giving the big picture and the closing of Nightbird Books, all converged and gave Daniel the assurance that Fayetteville needed a new bookstore.

What they wanted to create, besides more autonomy over their own lives, was a community space.

“We wanted to feel part of the community, to be part of something bigger than ourselves, but still put our stamp on it,” says Daniel Jordan. Local authors contacted them and the events immediately fell into place. “It was a surprise to us…with little awareness. They found us, (which was) proof that we needed it. We weren’t imposing anything, it was a very natural thing.”

Leah Jordan found their current location while driving to soothe their baby. The space that used to be the Cask and Grove olive oil store seemed perfect: a bit removed from the plaza but still close enough to high-traffic areas; not so big; with good accessibility.

Figuring out which books to take was more difficult because there were so many options. Cutting it down was a little overwhelming at first, says Daniel Jordan. Pearl found directional help and a supportive community in Two Friends, Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, and other bookstores across the country.

“We’re getting better (at the selections) as we find out what people like and trends in what people are buying,” not just national bestsellers, he adds.

The other four staff help vary the books they order, as they each have their preferences and what they know well. Leah’s strong genres are historical fiction, high fantasy, cookbooks and children’s books. Daniel loves memoirs, horror, literary fiction, and anything character-driven.

Being the one to categorize books into the appropriate genres is really one of the hardest parts of having a bookstore, Jordan says, after accounting, of course. Once he realized that deciding which genre a book falls into was purely marketing, the task became easier. If he thinks it might sell better in a different category, that’s it.

In their first year of operation, Jordan says he saw a lot of literary fiction, local books, romance, science fiction and fantasy flying off the shelves. Their customers also include more young adults and college students than they imagined.

As they continue to learn and grow in the bookstore business, the Jordans are thrilled to be a piece of the puzzle in the local reading community.

“We achieved this goal of wanting it to be a place people think of when they think of reading and congregating,” Jordan says. Baby showers, wedding showers and even a wedding have taken place in their shop.

“We’re not an event center, but the fact that people are thinking of us to do this means there’s a connection people are already making with Pearl’s. Continuing to grow is really important.”

Leah and Daniel Jordan wanted to create a community space. “We wanted to feel part of the community, to be part of something bigger than ourselves, but still put our stamp on it,” says Daniel Jordan. The result is Pearl’s Books on Center Street in Fayetteville. (Courtesy Photo/Lissa Chandler)

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

Book clubs

Two friends

The poetry book club is the first Sunday of the month.

Mystery book club is the last Wednesday of the month at 5 p.m. and is currently playing “Verity” by Colleen Hoover.

Horror Book Club is on the last Thursday of the month and is currently reading “Ruins” by Scott Smith.

The Two Friends book club, which started while they were at the location of the airship, is the first Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. He is currently reading “Which Side are you On” by Ryan Lee Wong.

Beads

“We will be launching a Pearl’s Book Club in the new year with selections from Pearl staff.”

About Herbert L. Leonard

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