Napa book sellers thrive, thanks to youth, innovation
By DOUG ERNST / Napa Valley Correspondent Three young and energetic readers are making a successful business in downtown Napa by selling thousands of used books and turning their Pearl Street bookstore into a hangout for writers, teens, book club members and game-players.
“People come in every single day and say ‘Thank God Napa has a second book store,’” said Bookmine manager Elayna Trucker, 27.
“I always understood there was a huge lack of a used book store in Napa,” said Bookmine co-owner Naomi Chamblin, 30, who seven years ago moved from New York to San Francisco, where she met her future husband Eric Hagyard. She began teaching elementary school in Napa and opened the Napa store in September, 2013.
Hagyard, 31, works as an assistant winemaker to Aaron Pott, a consultant winemaker in Napa.
“Sometimes I think we’re crazy, other times I know we’re crazy,” Chamblin said. Customers often ask how the new store can possibly compete with Napa’s other bookstore, Copperfield’s, and the behemoth of all bookstores, Amazon.com.
Chamblin and Trucker tell customers they don’t compete with Copperfield’s, since 90 percent of Bookmine’s inventory consists of the 20,000 used books shipped from Florida in a boxcar by Chamblin’s father, a bookstore owner. “We’re happy to refer customers to Copperfield’s. We’ll call and ask them if they have a book someone’s looking for, but we hope customers don’t use Amazon,” said Chamblin, who credits her parents with her love of reading. “Mom and I read a lot of books together, and I was exposed to reading while shelving books at my dad’s bookstore,” she said. Likewise, Hagyard, who Chamblin met during her first week in San Francisco, grew up with a father who worked as a librarian.
“As long as I can remember, I have had an insatiable appetite for knowledge and have always gravitated to books as a source,” he said. “A few years into our relationship, Eric got a winery job in Napa,” said Chamblin. “After we opened the store, we found we had so much support from the community.”
Mainly, they found a community grateful to have a new source of reading material. “Any bookstore is good. We’re happy to be in a two-bookstore town again,” said Chamblin.
Trucker, who comes from Mill Valley, fell asleep each night while her mother read to her and started working in bookstores at 17. She said she stays current on what’s hot in publishing by studying trade publications and bestsellers lists, and trusting her own intuition about what a customer might appreciate.
“You get used to asking customers a few questions about what they’re looking for and about their personal interests, then you give your best educated guess,” said Trucker, who wears a book tattoo on her arm. What do Napa readers tend to look for in books? The answers came as a surprise to Trucker and Chamblin. “They like occultism, witchcraft, New Age spirituality and philosophy,” said Trucker. “Our best sellers are fiction, mysteries, poetry and biographies. One of the key things I use to judge a reading community is the poetry section. We sell poetry well, which is an indication of Napa’s literacy and education level.”
Bookmine’s selection of young adult books – Hunger Games and Harry Potter, for example – has attracted young teens to the store and spawned a Teen Book Club. Members are currently reading “Jet Black and the Ninja Wind” by Leza Lowitz and Shogo Oketani, and “Golden Boy” by Tara Sullivan.
“Teens and pre-teens see this as a safe space to come in and not be bothered,” said Trucker. Also, the national “Where’s Waldo” craze has exposed the store’s young customers to other downtown establishments. “Find Waldo Here” signs are posted in 22 stores throughout the downtown area for kids seeking the 6-inch Waldo that is hidden in each business. Once they find it, searchers get a store stamp and signature, 15 of which qualify them to take part in a free prize drawing at Bookmine on July 31. “Merchants tell us the Waldo campaign has been fun, because kids and their parents have come into their stores for the first time,” Chamblin said. “Parents are getting exposed to their own city.”
Meeting other merchants also was good for Chamblin, who pitched the Waldo idea in stores she thought might have been too expensive for her budget. “I ended up getting all the stuff I needed for my wedding from downtown businesses,” she said.
Bookmine also sponsors guest speakers, including authors and local celebrities, along with a monthly “Night Write” at w hich writers are invited to “plug in” for a couple of hours, and a monthly “Game Night” to which anyone can bring a favorite game and find people to play with.
From 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6, people will bring board games, chess, Scrabble and even cribbage. The store also sponsors a monthly book club discussion based on books selected by club members. “They lead the discussion, decide what to read, and we order the books,” said Trucker. “It helps them read books they wouldn’t normally read, like ‘All the Light We Cannot See,’ a novel about World War II, and ‘A Walkable City,’ about how downtowns can save America.”
Trucker, Chamblin and Hagyard believe there is a future for booksellers. “Our success started the moment that Naomi hatched the idea, because it clearly was something the people of Napa were ready to support,” said Hagyard, who handles the company finances. “But now that we are open, there are no financial tricks that can make us successful. It is only through providing a service and a space people find valuable that we continue to succeed.”
“Books aren’t dead,” Trucker said. “There’s a place for e-reading and a place for book reading.” She suggests that readers look into using Kobo, an e-book reader produced by Toronto-based Kobo Inc., founded in 2010. Bookmine helps readers sign up to buy e-books through Kobo, which gives the store a percentage of the sale. The best part of that deal, said Chamblin and Trucker, is that Amazon gets nothing.
Bookmine is located at 964 Pearl St., Napa, bookmine.com or (707) 733-3199.