Interview with a Bookstore: Bookmark It
In Florida, showcasing local authors
Bookmark It officially opened its doors on March 1, 2014 in a small, second-floor space. At that time, Orlando had no independent bookstores selling new books; Kimberly Britt, Bookmark It’s owner and founder, saw an opportunity to shine a spotlight on Orlando’s vibrant book culture. Kim had no prior experience in the book industry, but as an avid reader with 30 years of experience in sales and event planning, she launched Bookmark It after testing the market in December 2013 with a popup book fair. The event, Locally Grown Words Book Fair, featured over 40 local authors and drew over 400 attendees. A concept was born, and since then, Book has consistently brought together readers and writers through programming and visibility. Bookmark It resides in the East End Market, a new shopping concept that specializes in local food and entrepreneurial economy.
While Bookmark It initially opened with the intent of following a more traditional bookstore trajectory, in the past two years its mission has also included traveling to many off-site locations through relationships with its literary partners, schools, and of course, responding to the needs of the authors the bookstore represents.
What's your favorite section of the store?
Kimberly Britt (owner): As we are only a whopping 205 square feet, there is only ONE section! If I had to pick a favorite shelf, it would be our local author/short fiction offerings. Each book on this shelf spotlights work that is not only professional and representative of some of Central Florida’s best authors, but most of the writers and publishers have been ardent supporters of our shop since its inception and have become like family. Selling these titles always feels a little less like book-slinging and more like I’m letting someone in on a really cool secret.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
Kim: This is an easy question. Along with ample storage and shelves and shelves of books (both new and used), I would add a theatre for readings and performances, a mixed-use space for writing workshops and book art classes, a children’s playhouse complete with story-time and juice-box bar, offices to house others working toward promoting Central Florida’s literary arts, a cafe and wine bar, an apartment space to house visiting authors or writing residencies and a silent-reading room complete with cushy sofas, ottomans, and the occasional well-behaved cat.
What do you do better than any other bookstore?
Kim: We connect. Our mission statement, “We believe the end of the book is just the start of the story,” really speaks to our goal of creating a relationship-based business that is dedicated toward bringing readers and writers together. Our staff is made up of long-time residents, active members in the arts community, published authors and indie press editors, students, and grassroots organizers. We take pride being able to not only send a customer home with a great book, but be able to open their eyes (and the doors) to any number of local offerings from volunteer opportunities to the best place to get a vegan sandwich. Our programming extends that same message and always includes opportunities for socializing, Q&A and more often than not, a fun after-party.
One of my favorite examples is Liesl Swogger, who discovered our space on a business trip to Orlando a year ago. Liesl ended up relocating to Orlando, and from that one meeting, she not only became an active volunteer at two of our community partners, TheKerouacProject.org (writer’s residency) and Page15.org (children’s literacy nonprofit) but went back to school for a low-residency MFA in Creative Writing. She now works part-time at the store to help us create event posters and introduces other Orlando newbies to some of the area’s best kept secrets.
Who's your favorite regular?
Kim: Ann Mixon, Media Specialist extraordinaire at Apopka High School. She is not only a cheerleader and customer of our small shop, but her enthusiasm and love of all things literary is infectious. She has the power to turn surly, brooding teenagers into excited readers, writers and poets… a superpower indeed!
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the store?
Kim: Bookmark It is located in a popular shared-space market, so every week brings any number of unexpected surprises. We’ve had our store taken over by news crews filming Emeril Lagasse for a Food Network Segment, been surprise hosts to 50 (inebriated) wedding guests driven inside from a courtyard wedding due to one of Florida’s infamous downpours, and (perhaps most unexpected) had former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins walk into the shop our very first day with a signed broadsheet wishing us well (he has continued to support us ever since).
What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?
Kim: Although I come from a family of readers, we were big library goers (in fact my first job at 15 was at our local public library), so my childhood book memories are bittersweet. I remember very clearly getting the library’s summer reading passport where we had to log all the books we read each summer (my sister and I would often go through more that one). But I also remember wanting to keep the books and not give them back! So I’m guessing that trauma probably seeped into my psyche and made the concept of owning a bookstore even more appealing.
If you weren’t running or working at a bookstore, what would you be doing?
Kim: I’d be working in a philanthropic position that championed the creative community. Orlando is home to a wonderful, diverse population of talented artisans whose value is often overshadowed by our tourism and tech industries. The longer I live here, the more I come to realize that connecting people through the arts is the best way to assure a happy, accepting, and ‘rooted-in’ residential base.
What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?
Kim: The level of complexity in the book publishing and distribution process is astounding. Having prior experience in merchandise sales on both a wholesale and retail level, I thought I’d be able to ramp up to speed fairly quickly. But my learning curve is no match for the constantly-evolving process of bringing an author’s work to fruition and then having it delivered into the marketplace. Add to that a store mission that is very event-driven, and we can spend hours each day just tracking/ordering and returning books to a wide variety of suppliers. I often joke that when asked what I’m reading right now, my honest answer would be “spreadsheets!”
SLIDESHOW: Bookmark It Staff Recommendations