Q & A with Jessica Stockton Bagnulo of Greenlight Bookstore in BKLYN

By • Jun 30th, 2009 • Category: 26th Story

1) Why open an independent bookstore now, when people like Len Riggio are quoted as saying “never in all my years as a bookseller have I seen a retail climate as poor as the one we are in. Nothing even close.”?

I feel like Rebecca and I are operating in a very different environment than Len Riggio is, and his comments, while probably true for Barnes and Noble, aren’t that relevant to us. That said, there’s no denying that the economy makes things difficult, not only for booksellers but for all businesses.  We realize that it might seem a little bit crazy to start a business in this environment.  But counterintuitively, an economic downturn can be the best time to get something started. In a way, everyone is hungry, and the stakes are a bit lower, so there are fewer obstacles to getting started.

And at the same time, we have this incredible community in Fort Greene that is champing at the bit for us to be open!   We’re hoping to create a neighborhood institution that will make enough of a profit to last for a long time, evolve and grow with the times, and give us a decent quality of life.

2) How will Greenlight differ from McNally Jackson?

Being in SoHo, McNally Jackson has a very sophisticated, Manhattan vibe, which has served it very well and makes it a tourist destination as well as a destination for New Yorkers.  Greenlight will be much more of a neighborhood bookstore, a Brooklyn bookstore — smaller, slower, more casual, funkier.

I hope to be able to do a lot more one-on-one handselling with customers, which I sometimes didn’t have time for at McNally Jackson.  We’ve designed Greenlight so that almost all of the business of the bookstore will happen on the bookstore floor, so we’re always where the customers are. We’re also hoping to plan some interactive events — readings, discussions, even open mic nights — that wouldn’t make sense in Manhattan . Other than that, we’ll see as we go along!

3)  You already have a devoted following on Twitter. What would you say to a bookseller who says “but I don’t have time for social media, and I don’t believe it translates into sales”?

Not everything has to have a direct, observable sales correlation to be healthy for your bookstore in the long run.   It’s all part of getting more bodies into our store (or on our website), so we can show them how good we are or what we do.  (And if you shudder at the thought of Twittering yourself, chances are there’s a bookseller on staff who would be willing to tweet on the store’s behalf — maybe they already do!)

4) Will you sell books on your website?

YES!  We think it’s very important as a 21st century bookstore to offer our customers the option of shopping online, even if they use it primarily to see what we have in stock — for now, it’s less about hoping to make big bucks on the online sales and more about the marketing opportunities of e-commerce.  Exciting stuff!

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  • http://www.carlemuseum.org/shop Andy Laties

    The Eric Carle Museum Bookshop now does 25% of our business online. The growth of the online business is extremely important to our profitability. When we get a page-long order for remaindered children’s books that are available lots of other places around the country, as well as online, I always feel a sense of shock. Why are people buying discount books from US when they could be buying them elsewhere? When we get a page of orders for books autographed by the illustrator, I feel pleased that people have come to us to place a unique order they could place nowhere else. Yet, both kinds of orders are real, no matter what my strange beliefs about their likelihood or unlikelihood! Physical bookstore existing in the real world can very certainly benefit and profit by selling online.

  • http://twitter.com/AvidBookshop Avid Bookshop

    Once again, I’m pleased and inspired to find that Greenlight Bookstore’s goals, mission, and points of view sound pretty similar to mine. I’m opening a neighborhood bookstore in 2010 where I live in Athens, Georgia–this makes perfect sense to fans of indie bookstores and Athenians, but almost everyone outside of these circles is confused. The development of any community venture like this depends so much on the community–like Ft. Greene, Athens is hungry for an independent bookstore. Congratulations to the girls at Greenlight–can’t wait to visit!