WRITER’S BLOCK BOOK­STORE GETS IN THE FLOW

Foreword Reviews - - Contents - by James A. Mitchell

Lauren Zim­mer­man didn’t need much in the way of mar­ket re­search be­fore open­ing Writer’s Block Book­store in fall 2014. Hardly a stranger in town—the at­tor­ney and in­te­rior ar­chi­tect has called the Or­lando area home for more than forty years now—she had a pretty good idea that her Win­ter Park com­mu­nity would ea­gerly wel­come a book­store.

“I know the cus­tomers,” she says as a mat­ter of fact. “I was one of them.” Zim­mer­man seems to have found a for­mula: be­tween sat­is­fy­ing ap­petites for top-shelf au­thors while in­tro­duc­ing in­de­pen­dent voices and pub­lish­ers; be­tween read­ing and buy­ing and the hours needed for re­tail man­age­ment.

Hav­ing sur­vived the crit­i­cal first year, the store rep­re­sents a suc­cess story for the mod­ern age, and we asked its founder and owner to nar­rate the tale.

Please pro­vide the main mes­sage in a book called Start­ing an In­de­pen­dent Book­store.

The main thing is that you have to know your com­mu­nity be­fore go­ing into the com­mu­nity. In­de­pen­dent book­stores are dif­fer­ent from check­ing in with Ama­zon; you’re there for the com­mu­nity and the au­di­ence. I’ve lived in Win­ter Park for forty years, and I know the cus­tomers largely be­cause I was one of them.

What prompted the ca­reer switch from a le­gal prac­tice to store own­er­ship at that time and place in your life?

I heard an NPR seg­ment about Ann Patch­ett’s Pa­mas­sus Books in Nashville and thought, ‘I want to open a book­store.’ I’ve al­ways loved book­stores. When I go on va­ca­tions I visit the book­stores in all the big cities.

What do you know now that you wish you’d thought of two years ago?

I’m not sure I’d do any­thing dif­fer­ent. It’s a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and there haven’t been any real nega­tives that hap­pened. As a do-over, it’s all about time: I had to learn to di­vide my time.

How did you go about stock­ing your ini­tial in­ven­tory, and how has that changed?

This is a very aca­demic, lit­er­ary, in­tel­lec­tual com­mu­nity that looks to the Times re­views to in­tro­duce them to pub­lish­ers. I’ve show­cased [in­de­pen­dent pub­lisher] col­lec­tions on a shelf. I have a new idea for a shelf with prize win­ners. I try to make the se­lec­tion in­ter­est­ing. We still have a ma­jor­ity of books from ma­jor pub­lish­ers be­cause peo­ple want to read them.

Does suc­cess rely on be­ing “more than a book­store,” with events or com­mu­nity out­reach?

At the end of the day, you want them to keep com­ing back. I work re­ally hard at mov­ing in­ven­tory, mov­ing shelves around or gen­res to dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions. We don’t keep books on the shelves longer than three months. Peo­ple come in and say, “Ev­ery time I come here it’s dif­fer­ent.” I ap­pre­ci­ate that be­cause it’s on pur­pose. Com­mu­nity out­reach and events are 50 per­cent of the for­mula; the other 50 per­cent is bring­ing them back.

Is there a dif­fer­ence host­ing lo­cal writ­ers com­pared to top au­thors from ma­jor pub­lish­ers?

We don’t do any­thing dif­fer­ent. We have a part­ner­ship with the Win­ter Park Li­brary and Rollins Col­lege English Depart­ment to pro­duce events. We put it on our web site, send out news­let­ters and a press re­lease, and put it on Face­book and In­sta­gram. We don’t dis­crim­i­nate; we have a sys­tem in place. Work­ing with in­de­pen­dent au­thors and pub­lish­ers is a chal­lenge. You have to match your cus­tomers with the au­thors, and au­thors need to do more to pro­mote them­selves. We’ll work as hard as we can to bring peo­ple in, but they need to pro­mote their books as well.

Were you sur­prised that young peo­ple still read?

I dis­agree with the whole thing of be­ing sur­prised that peo­ple still read. That’s a stereo­type. The ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who buy books are young. Older readers go to a li­brary or buy more on Kin­dle: They don’t like col­lect­ing things, or they need to make the font larger. I was at the air­port and saw col­lege stu­dents com­ing back from vacation, and 50 per­cent of them had a book in hand. I’m not wor­ried about go­ing out of busi­ness be­cause peo­ple aren’t read­ing.

What have you learned about re­tail cus­tomers that you hadn’t known?

They’re all about con­ve­nience, so hav­ing a great lo­ca­tion is im­por­tant. It’s about chang­ing buy­ing habits. My com­pe­ti­tion is Ama­zon: it’s too easy to go on­line and or­der ev­ery­thing. I was sur­prised that older peo­ple were the de­mo­graph­ics for Kin­dle, but it makes sense.

Was there a mo­ment when you knew you were right to launch a book store?

Sev­eral mo­ments. Win­ter Park used to have a book store, the Lit­tle Pro­fes­sor, which closed in the 1980s. I was the first to open since then, and not a day went by that some­one didn’t say how they mourned when the Lit­tle Pro­fes­sor closed. Well, I missed Lit­tle Pro­fes­sor too. Now peo­ple come in, I see them sit­ting down, read­ing, brows­ing a book­store, and I think, ‘What if this was gone?’ I know the com­mu­nity wants a book store there.

What books left an im­pact on you? Any re­cent ti­tles have sim­i­lar ef­fects?

I was—still am—an at­tor­ney, and I liked books writ­ten by lawyers: John Gr­isham, Scott Tur­row. I like fic­tion that’s easy to read and you can fin­ish quickly. Re­cently I en­joyed Ann Packer’s

The Chil­dren’s Cru­sade. The sad thing when you own a store is it’s hard to read as much as you want. I’m look­ing at how to rec­om­mend a book, sort of like the shoe­maker can’t look at a pair of shoes with­out be­ing crit­i­cal. I don’t just go into book­stores and re­lax any more.

Other than set­tling down with a good book, what’s your def­i­ni­tion of “qual­ity down­time?”

My dream is to go back to my down­time of read­ing books. If you asked me what I’d like to do? Read a book. One thing I learned was that [for work] I had to be more on­line. I’m more old-fash­ioned, but now my down­time has turned into my work life, and when I have down­time, I’m on the com­puter putting an event to­gether.

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