For author Emma Straub and her husband, graphic designer Michael Fusco, owning an independent bookstore had always been something of a fantasy, something that they imagined doing later in life, if at all. That changed last October, however, after they learned that the owners of their beloved, local indie BookCourt were retiring, and closing the store at the end of the year. After that, Straub recalled, things "happened rather fast." Now, she and Fusco are gearing up for the opening of their own independent bookstore Books Are Magic in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, on May 1.
"When we learned that they were closing, we thought, oh, it's not someday, it's now," said Straub. "It's just been full steam ahead since October. We are very much in the business of becoming a business."
Straub and Fusco will open Books Are Magic in an 1,800-square-foot storefront in a section of Cobble Hill that borders the neighborhoods of Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill. The store will sell new books for all ages, with about 1,000 square feet of selling space for adult titles and 800 square feet for children's books. After looking at only two locations, Straub and Fusco knew that they had found the right spot for their store; she described it as "unique" and said they loved that it was "not just a vanilla rectangle" but an "eccentric, warm space" with lots of exposed brick and big arched windows.
"We knew that we wanted it right away," recalled Straub.
|Michael Fusco and Emma Straub|
The inventory for Books Are Magic is still being put together, with Straub so far doing the buying while Fusco is managing the construction. Straub said she's building the inventory one book at a time, and compared the process with "choosing what to name your child many thousand times in a row." She's gotten help and advice from sales reps, distributors and other Brooklyn indies, including WORD Bookstore and Greenlight Bookstore, about how big the initial orders should be. Some of the titles that Straub is particularly excited to stock and sell include Maile Meloy's novels Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter; Robert Sullivan's nonfiction books The Meadowlands and Cross Country; and the poetry of Camille Rankine, Morgan Parker and Ocean Vuong, for adults. For kids, she's excited to sell "as much Carson Ellis as humanly possible" along with the work of Julia Donaldson, Roald Dahl, Jon Klassen and many more. Added Straub: "I could go on forever, of course--that's why I'm opening a bookstore."
As for sidelines, Fusco and Straub are designing a lot of the merchandise for the store themselves; Fusco is a graphic designer, and both he and Straub used to work for the band the Magnetic Fields making and selling band merchandise. The store will offer customized gear such as pens, mugs and tote bags, along with cards and a larger selection of sidelines for kids. At the moment, Straub said that there are no plans for any kind of food or drink service, but noted that she has "strong feelings about baked goods" and may keep a jar of chocolate chip cookies at the counter.
Once Books Are Magic opens, Fusco will be at the store every day. Straub, meanwhile, said she will be there less frequently, and be most involved with organizing events and doing outreach. They are also currently hiring, with the plan being to have around eight or nine staff members in addition to themselves. Straub has already started booking events; the first official event will be a signing on May 9 with J. Courtney Sullivan, whose new novel, Saints for All Occasions, is going on sale that day. Others include cookbook-focused events with Matt Rodbard and Julia Sherman, a visit from Michael Chabon tied to the paperback release of Moonglow this fall, and a variety of kids' programming. When asked about a grand opening celebration, Straub answered that their plans for the opening are "only grand in that we plan to be open as soon as possible," and that when they do have a party, it will be more of a "Surprise! We're open!" sort of thing.
Prior to starting the process of opening a store of their own, Straub and Fusco had, in their fantasies of bookstore ownership, entertained the idea of taking over BookCourt once the owners retired. They both felt a deep connection to the store: they were close with the owners and shopped there frequently, and Straub had worked for four years there as a bookseller.
"We always had the fantasy that when they were ready we would take over," said Straub, "because it was our place, and we loved it."
Though that hasn't come to pass exactly, they are working to carry on BookCourt's role in the community and attempting to fill the void left in its absence. Straub reported that community members are thrilled that they're opening a bookstore so soon after BookCourt's closure, and the response has been even better than anticipated.
"We knew people were going to be relieved that there was still going to be a bookstore in the neighborhood," she said. "But I truly did not anticipate the monsoon of excitement." --Alex Mutter