One of the most entertaining and talked-about presentations at the
ABA's Winter Institute last week was the panel on the Bookstore as
Third Place, which featured Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books, whose
main store is in Coral Gables, Fla., Philip Rafshoon of Outwrite
Bookstore and Coffee House, Atlanta, Ga., and showstopper Collette
Morgan, owner of Wild Rumpus, Minneapolis, Minn.
In a bit of an understatement, Morgan said that Wild Rumpus, which she
founded in 1993, is a "nontraditional" children's store that she wants
to be "comfortable space" for herself and her community. In the
2,000-sq.-ft. store, which is a stand-alone building, several chickens
roam free, and she keeps ferrets, hedgehogs and even a tarantula. (To
avoid problems with the city, Wild Rumpus is licensed as a pet store,
which allows Morgan to keep animals even though she doesn't sell them.)
Events are very important for the store because "it's important to
bring kids to books, not the other way around," Morgan said. "We
compete with a lot of stuff. Storytime is not enough. Kids would rather
stay home and load up their iPods."
The range of events held at Wild Rumpus is astounding. "We try to mix
science, art, dance and animals," Morgan said. "Our events are non
gender-specific, often not age-specific, and they're free and open to
anyone. My criterion is if it bores me, I won't do it."
Among events Wild Rumpus has held, none of which sounds boring:
- A battle of local kids' garage bands, for which Graeme Base was
the judge. First prize was time in a professional studio to cut a demo.
- School jazz band concerts. "They're big and they bring family and
friends," Morgan commented. "And schools love their bands performing in
- A visit from staff at the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices Collection at the Science Museum in St. Paul.
- Baby's First Tattoo, in which experts "explained the procedure and showed antique equipment."
- A visit by a forensic entomologist. "You would be surprised at
how much kids love to hear about which bugs feed on the dead parts of
things and how long the things are dead."
- Annual Vet Day. "It's amazing how many people come to this."
- A drum circle led by street musicians "we pulled off the street."
- A book printing demonstration and creation of pop-up books done with the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.
- Horse shoeings. "I like to make the horse go all around the store
and I make sure he goes by the counter so I can say, 'Why the long
- A Persian calligraphy demonstration done by a local Iranian.
- A beekeeper demonstration. "He came with the smoke thing and set off the detector."
- A sheep shearing.
- And "at the drop of the hat, we'll do a parade. Everyone loves a parade."
Morgan said she doesn't "necessarily sell a lot of books during events,
but you'd be surprised at how many people come back a week later and
ask for books related to the event."
Rafshoon has made Outwrite, "the largest independent in Atlanta's city
limits," into a meeting place. As more straight people move into the
gay and lesbian neighborhood, "we're trying to serve them as well as
serve our primary group," he said. "We welcome all!"
The store has a popular lounge area. Free wi-fi, added a year and a
half ago, has been a "boon to the coffee house," he continued.
The store tries to be "very particular" about events, trying to get
25-75 people and aiming to have them last an hour. Speakers sign the
Books & Books hosts a range of reading groups, from a
Spanish-language group to a Tibetan reading group. It also has a group
organized by the Brazilian American Chamber of Commerce that meets
monthly and specializes in Brazilian and Portuguese themes.
The store also co-sponsors TigerTail: A South Florida Poetry Annual
which it sells in its stores, and has been "a big underwriter" of the
local public radio station since the store opened. "We all know how
simpatico NPR listeners are with booksellers," Kaplan explained.
Books & Books made a "breakthrough" when it developed partnerships
with local groups, including a church, temple, even basketball areas,
to host author events. "They do it for free because it reflects well on
them," he said.
Kaplan added that "these days the bar is raised so high" for
booksellers. "You have to become a community institution, not just a
bookstore. It takes a lot in costs and commitment."