Interview with a Bookstore: Her Bookshop
Joelle Herr's Shop is a Dream 20 Years in the Making
Joelle Herr can’t remember a time when she wasn’t over the moon about books. After spending 20 years working in publishing, she quietly quietly unlocked the door and put up the “open” sign at Her Bookshop in East Nashville, Tennessee on the afternoon of July 19th, 2016. Although fantasies of having her own bookstore date back to her childhood, if you had asked Herr even a year ago whether she thought she’d actually do it, she would have said no way. But last April, a fantastic convergence of opportunity, inspiration, and courage led her to decide to take the leap and give it a go. Shortly after Her Bookshop’s opening, a bookish preteen came in by herself and spent half an hour looking around the shop. She ran home to get more money so she could buy two books—a perfect first sale.
What's your favorite section of the store?
Joelle Herr (owner): That’s like asking which of my pets is my favorite! I suppose it would be the literature section. It—like all of the sections—is quite small, and so I try very hard to fill it with the unexpected. You’ll find Penguin Portables and Great Ideas, the Melville House Last Interview series, the New Yorker decade anthologies (very excited about the upcoming 1960s one), trusted classics from the New York Review of Books, books about books and writers (think: Everybody Behaves Badly by Lesley M. M. Blume and The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer), and some of my favorite classics, like A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, Flannery O’Connor’s stories, and one of the books that was my siren call to a career in publishing, The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe. One other thing about this section is that I don’t necessarily reorder titles when I sell them. I like the idea of keeping it fresh.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
Joelle: More of everything! And perhaps some paper products (cards, notebooks), pens, and pencils. I’m a sucker for anything gorgeously letter-pressed. Also, long live snail mail.
What do you do better than any other bookstore?
Joelle: I’m not sure if it’s necessarily better, but I think what’s unique about Her Bookshop is its focus on illustrated and gift books—the types of books that I helped create as an editor at such publishers as Running Press, Workman, and Sterling. One of my missions as a shop owner is to fill the store with “stunners”—books that’ll catch your eye from afar and make you cross the room to pick up. That said, we have way more than just high-end (read: pricey) coffee-table books. I’d say that more than half of the books in the store are under $25. My goal is to always carry books across a variety of topics and at a wide range of price points.
Who's your favorite regular?
Joelle: Each and every person who comes in and oohs and ahhs about the shop. The ones who look around and say they want one of everything. The ones who spend an hour or longer browsing. They’re all my favorites.
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the store?
Joelle: Knock on wood, but nothing too crazy yet! Perhaps the handful of times I’ve witnessed people pretty openly showrooming, which is frustrating, of course.
What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?
Joelle: There was an independent in Franklin, Tennessee (where I grew up), called Lori’s Bookstore. It was right in the center of town and just so cozy and full of books. Going there was such a treat, and I remember thinking how lucky Lori must be, to have her own bookstore.
If you weren’t running or working at a bookstore, what would you be doing?
Joelle: With the shop having been open almost three months now, my previous life seems like such a long time ago. But no doubt, I would still be freelance editing and writing.
What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?
Joelle: This may sound like an odd response, but just how much I’m enjoying it. I am an awkward and shy introvert to the core, and I was a little worried about the all-day socializing that running a shop would entail. But it has been absolutely amazing. Book lovers are the warmest, most wonderful people, and I am so unbelievably appreciative of their immense support. The whole experience has been truly life changing in the best possible way.
SLIDESHOW: Her Bookshop Staff Recommendations