A variety of book clubs, a fierce commitment to promoting local authors and a love of finding the perfect something for the vaguely needy reader are just a few of the things that make Fireside Books of Forest City, NC everything an indie bookstore should be. Owner Linda Parks knows as well as anyone the joys of being an indie bookseller, and shared with Atticus Books what it takes to become the kind of community mainstay all indies strive to be. Because, even in the face of the e-book revolution, indies and devout book buyers know that no Kindle or iPad can ever replace the experience provided by a passionate and hardworking bookstore.
Atticus Books:What inspired you to open your own indie bookshop? Was there a lifelong love of books involved (as seems to often be the case) or some other catalyst for Fireside?
Linda Parks: As far back as I can remember I had an interest in owning a gift shop… and most of my working life had involved management and sales in some fashion. When I was at a point in my career where I had spent years working on the fringes of the book industry and our local bookseller decided to sell their business, I knew there was an opportunity to combine my professional experiences, re-brand it as a book and gift shop and see if I could make that particular dream come true!
AB: So, without exaggeration, you can say you’re living your dream! Is there any one part of what you do that brings you the most joy and excitement?
LP: That’s a tough question. There’s so much I love about what I do. The best I can do is narrow it down to a few. I love being involved with our schools and seeing kids excited about what they are reading. I love the partnerships that we’ve been able to build within our community with other small businesses and organizations to combine efforts to help the citizens of Rutherford County. I truly love having had the opportunity to meet so many incredibly talented and nice folks–from the writers to the reps–during the many tradeshows and conferences I’ve attended. I am honored to be able to call them friends. And right now, my love for work is focused on the rehab/re-use of an historic downtown building on Main Street, Forest City for the future location of Fireside in 2011.
AB: As the name suggests, Fireside Books and Gifts isn’t only about bookselling. You also offer unique gifts for both children and adults. Do you see this kind of diversification as important or even essential to success as an independent bookseller?
LP: I see it as absolutely essential given the challenges we have today that didn’t exist for an independent bookseller twenty years ago. Fireside has now been in business 20 years (Happy 20th Anniversary to us!) and has managed to ride the wave of so many changes by being able to expand and adapt. In the past three years, we’ve incorporated an e-commerce website–and yes, e-books too–as well as roughly a 35% increase of our gift and toy lines. These additions–and our reputation for great customer service–have been our defense against the onslaught of big box stores and online super discount shopping sites.
AB: Fireside Books and Gifts hosts frequent book signings and new release events. Obviously, you spend a lot of time working with the authors themselves. Any favorites, or perhaps favorite stories, from your interactions?
LP: Again – how to choose? We’ve met so many wonderful individuals and have been blessed with some super events and sweet memories. I’ve made many lifelong friends through my work at Fireside. Most recently, we partnered with our Rutherford Community Health Council and held a large event at The Foundation’s Performing Arts Center here in Rutherford County. We brought in the writer, director and an actor of The Fat Boy Chronicles–a great book that came out last year and was developed this year into a film which portrays a young man who faces challenges with weight and deals with bullying in school. Our guests–all such great gentlemen–discussed the process with the audience–from story-writing through filming–and then we screened the movie. We had nearly 2,500 students attend, along with educators and community leaders. Fireside’s desire was to bring into focus a local problem, to bring attention to the subjects of bullying and obesity with our county school’s middle graders, and to offer encouragement through the use of a positive story and positive people. Educators received a copy of the book and access to classroom resources online and one school participated in a school-wide reading project. This event in particular was a huge success due to the content, the timing of the focus on these issues, all the wonderful people behind the project and the high level of interest received from our county school administrators.
We have two upcoming events for local author Beth Revis in January. We are hosting the launch party with Penguin at our store for her outstanding young adult novel Across the Universe, a YA science fiction/fantasy title, on Jan.11th , 5-7 pm as well as a school-wide event on Jan. 25th (at the high school where she currently teaches in Cleveland County, NC.)
AB: On your site, you feature a few short trailers for forthcoming novels. These “Fireside Films” suggest an interesting interplay between the printed word and video media- the very fact that we’re now seeing movie-like trailers for printed books is intriguing. As far as crossroads between movies and books go, do you have any books you’re wishing would be made into movies sometime soon? Or any favorites that have been?
LP: I’d love to see Kay Hooper’s Bishop Series go to film. James Hayman’s series would play out well on screen, I think, as well as Carla Buckley’s The Things That Keep Us Here. There are actually quite a few I could mention…. And a few of my favorites are in film negotiations right now–but I have to be mum about those!
As for the interplay–I’d love to see short films, trailers, music videos and various other forms of interactive video content become a standard part of the book promo packaging and purchasing options. I think it enables authors to showcase their particular style and story lines in a highly visible way–enticing readers who might not otherwise walk into a bookstore or purchase a book online.
AB: Not only do you recommend books to your in-store customers, but you maintain a profile on goodreads.com, rating the books you’ve read recently. Is there a certain genre you find yourself recommending most frequently? Which general kinds of literature do you find you can’t keep on the shelves?
LP: Paranormal has been our best seller this year and children’s books are always moving. As for me, I used to be strictly a business or horror type of girl, but I’ve recently discovered that I love all kinds of stories, particularly young adult titles and memoirs.
AB: We’re constantly finding that indie booksellers generally play an enormous and essential role in their local communities. What about Forest City, NC makes it possible for an indie bookseller to thrive in the community?
LP: Definitely the opportunity to partner with schools, businesses and organizations. We are blessed to have some very forward thinking leaders in our community. And being located in western NC–we have a ton of talented writers across our region who we love to support and who love indies and community involvement–so it works very well for us. We’re the only independent bookstore with about 45 minutes in any direction–so that’s a big plus! We have the support of our loyal customers, our school system and the leaders in the community. We also have visitors who travel through on their way to the mountains (or coast) and return year after year. We have been encouraged from the beginning by everyone. No one in my hometown wants to see their local bookstore go away!
If people continue to support these bigger businesses by immediately or constantly giving them business…we will continue to see precious independent booksellers fade away.
AB: Every day we’re hearing more news on the rising popularity of e-books, Kindles, Nooks, etc. How do you see this increased reliance on digital books affecting indie bookstores in the coming years?
LP: This is the thing we’re all talking about but no one wants to talk about it! It’s all kind of scary. You can keep up with the technology–like how we offer downloadable e-books on our website–but you still have to drive the traffic to your site. You still have to compete with the big dogs for the attention and sales. A small indie can hardly afford to run 10 second spots on their local broadcaster, much less place paper ads in every household and be splashed across the TV screen during primetime. It’s more the thought of people allowing the bigger businesses to squash the little guys that scares me–not people’s choice of reading material or device. If people continue to support these bigger businesses by immediately or constantly giving them business (and never checking with a local indie who may have the same goods or service), we will continue to see precious independent booksellers fade away. I absolutely encourage shopping local in your community.
AB: We love that your store functions as a hub for a number of book clubs, including a Civil War Era Book Club! Where do you find the momentum for these clubs to start up and stay active?
LP: I have a great staff at the store! And the book clubs mostly run themselves–we supply reading recommendations, discounts on club titles, a facilitator (if desired) and a quiet meeting place. We encourage customers to form groups and offer any help they need in the process but more often than not, they have so much fun they don’t even know we’re there!
AB: By now, it’s common knowledge that indie bookselling is hard work. But it’s also clearly worth it. What would you say the rewards are, for both yourself and the army of other hardworking indie booksellers out there?
LP: When a child gets lost in the aisles only to be found sitting in the corner–reading a book off the display shelf… When someone calls desperate to remember the title of that beloved book they had as a child, so that they can give it as a gift to their child or grandchild–and we have it on our shelf, like it’s been waiting just for them… When we have that customer who comes in and needs something… but seems kind of lost. When we can have a positive exchange with that person and introduce them to a new author, a series or genre they are completely unfamiliar with and they come back in later, happy, and thank us.
We get to see some of our favorite new authors become super successful mainly due to the efforts of the handsellers in our business–and we see readers so appreciative because we introduced them to some wonderfully talented authors they might otherwise never have heard of in the big box stores or the online shopping world.
Those are just a few of the rewards of being an independent bookseller.