In celebration of the start of the holiday season, we are sitting down to talk with the amazing people who work at some of our favorite indie bookstores across the country.
In our first Indie Love Story, we are profiling Books Inc. in San Francisco. We met with Hannah Walcher, who is the coordinator of their extremely popular Not Your Mother’s Book Club.
1. Why did you want to work at an independent bookstore? How did you get involved?
I’ve loved books my whole life. As soon as I found out there was a job where you could read books for a living, I knew I had to be an editor. That’s right—I totally skipped over the possibility of working at an actual bookstore. I went through with my plan and entered an MA in publishing program at Rosemont College. While there, we were given advice on how to get the kind of experience a publishing company might be interested in. The most repeated advice was “work in a bookstore.”
After graduating without any publishing job prospects, I moved to California and researched bookstores. The closest one to me was Books Inc. I dropped off my application, and they called me a couple of days later. It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done. And don’t tell my father this, but if I had gotten my job at Books Inc. BEFORE grad school, I don’t think I would have ever gone. I love bookselling.
2. Is there a story behind the name of your bookstore? If so, please tell us!
Books Inc.’s origin dates back to the gold rush of 1851 when Anton Roman struck it rich in Shasta City, California, and set up a business selling books. That small bookstore was moved, bought, sold, burned, rebuilt, renamed, and became Books Inc., as we know it today, in 1946. So I’m not sure anyone remembers how the name came to be, but we have lovely history as the Bay Area’s oldest independent bookstore.
3. How long has your store been open?
166 years. Definitely the Bay Area’s OLDEST independent bookstore. We’ve expanded and downsized as necessary, but today we have eleven locations. The newest one, in Santa Clara, opened in 2016, and we have another one scheduled to open in Campbell in 2018!
4. What is your favorite part of working at an independent bookstore?
Apart from being able to gush about my favorite books to customers, finding the perfect book for a young reader, and the wonderful people I work with, the best part of working at an independent bookstore is the atmosphere of growth that Books Inc. provides its employees. They see your strengths and passions, and they allow you to follow them.
For example, with my background in publishing and passion for helping writers, I pitched a new workshop idea for educating writers about the publishing industry. My boss loved it so much she told me to run with it. All my coworkers at Books Inc. have been so encouraging and supportive. I’m positive I wouldn’t have had the same opportunity at a chain bookstore.
5. What would you say is the most unique thing about your store?
Have I mentioned we’re the oldest? On top of that, about twelve years ago, an employee noticed the uptick of young adult sales, and they were genius to suggest that Books Inc. offer an event series that specifically showcases young adult authors. And that’s how Not Your Mother’s Book Club (NYMBC) was born. Over the past twelve years, we’ve hosted hundreds of authors, including John Green, Leigh Bardugo, M .T. Anderson, E. Lockhart, Jandy Nelson, Marissa Meyer, and many, many, MANY more.
6. What makes the community or neighborhood where your bookstore is located unique?
As I mentioned, Books Inc. has eleven stores throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, and we try to cater our stores to each neighborhood. We truly are blessed to have such a wonderful literary community, made up of multiple independent bookstores, authors, and book lovers.
7. Do you have any community programs for teens?
We do! Part of what we do with Not Your Mother’s Book Club is collect a portion of our event sales into a fund, which we use to spread the joy of literacy throughout the Bay Area. For example, we might fund a school visit or donate books to a school in need.
We also started our first teen advisory board at our newest location. We’re planning on expanding that to include regional teen advisory boards, so stay tuned! We also have a couple of teen book clubs: I host First Looks, which reads advance reader’s copies, out of our store in Burlingame. We also have the Alameda Queer Teen Book Club, and we offer a teens-only version of our new educational program on publishing.
8. What is your favorite young adult book?
Oh, man . . . ummm . . . THERE ARE SO MANY! Okay. My favorite two:
Honorable mentions: The new DC Icons series!
9. What is your favorite book to give as a gift?
Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee. I love this book; it has action, suspense, history, and a strong, diverse female character you’ll root for. Also, Stacey Lee is a wonderful human being.
10. Any last words you want to tell our young readers?
If you love books, find your local independent bookstore. Make friends with the booksellers because they LOVE talking about their favorite books as much as you do. Oh, and they might give you some free advance reader’s copies! Perks! Also, if the opportunity arises, apply for a job at your indie!
And, of course, never stop reading. <3
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