Before opening GreenRow Books in Ellicott City, Md., on October 1, owner Beth Panageotou had no bookselling experience. She had, however, founded an online company called Page's Corner, an educational resource for children that combines crafts, reading and learning.
"Through Page's Corner I learned a lot about the buying side of the book industry and connected with authors and illustrators and advocates of literacy," said Panageotou, who has also worked as a high school teacher and has a background in public policy. "I took that experience, along with my experience in marketing and magazine writing and web design, rolled it all up, and jumped in."
GreenRow Books is a 600-square-foot bookstore, located on Ellicott City's "amazingly vibrant" main street. The inventory, Panageotou said, contains "a little of everything," including an extensive cookbook selection, children's books, young adult books, and fiction and nonfiction. Sidelines include candles, scarves, coffee mugs and an assortment of other items that "pair well with reading." At the moment, GreenRow Books doesn't serve any food or drinks, but expanding into that realm is one of many things on the docket for 2015.
Given the store's small size, Panageotou has had to carefully select the shop's inventory, and so far that's been her biggest challenge, particularly selecting adult fiction and nonfiction.
"The sea is so big--there are hundreds of thousands of choices," she said. To help with this, she's asked for recommendations from authors and librarians whom she knows from her time with Page's Corner, as well as asking her customers and community members what they like to read. Panageotou is also looking to strike a balance between big, new bestsellers and older gems that may have gone overlooked. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan's 2012 novel, is one such example. "I can't keep it on the shelves," remarked Panageotou.
Although building fiction and nonfiction sections has been a challenge, Panageotou has had fun building others. She and her husband collect cookbooks, she said, and choosing which cookbooks to put in the store was fun. Children's books, she added, were also much more "in my wheelhouse."
On the weekend of October 17 and 18, GreenRow Books held its grand opening celebration, which coincided with Maryland's annual teachers' convention. A "whole bunch" of teachers came through, she commented. Festivities include appearances by three authors, a champagne toast, appetizers and chocolates and a book signing with Polly Holyoke (The Neptune Project).
So far, Panageotou has also organized three book clubs: #TeamGRB, a book club for middle grade readers; BookPlates, which is held at a local restaurant and features food and drinks paired with that month's book; and the Brown Bag Book Club, in which Panageotou chooses a different paperback book each month and wraps it in brown paper, so customers don't know what they're buying.
The Brown Bag Book Club has "two rules: one is that you can't open it until you leave the store, and two is you have to read it and tell me what you think," Panageotou said. So far, 30 people have signed up for that club. "It's fun to surprise people. It's a chance to maybe take them outside of what they would normally pick up. One month it might be a mystery, the next a romance or a thriller."
Late in the summer, Panageotou started an Indiegogo campaign to help finance the store's opening. Although she did not end up reaching her goal, she said she doesn't regret doing it. "It was a huge learning experience," Panageotou elaborated. "And very difficult. But it was also completely worth it. It gave the store exposure, and it helped me brand my store. It made me stop and think about that in the very beginning." --Alex Mutter