The owners of The Roasted Bookery built a following through pop-up bookstores at Wilmington markets, filling their stalls with stories about people of color and members of the LGBTQIA community.
Banking on that momentum, Jerry and Erin Jones turned the page to trying a tiny storefront, opening The Roasted Bookery’s Book Nook recently in a shipping container off 16th Street in Wilmington’s Cargo District.
Local niche booksellers, among them The Roasted Bookery and Port City Book Club, have popped up in Wilmington as independent bookstores ride a wave of increased popularity across the country. One reason for that, Jerry Jones said, was a side effect of 2020’s global pandemic.
“I think that our need for community was highlighted by our response to COVID and having to be apart for so long. I think that everyone realizes in some shape, form or fashion that we’re communal creatures and we need to have communal spaces and be together,” Jerry Jones said.
And then came the summer of 2020, he said, when in May, 46-year-old George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sparking a nationwide reaction.
“It was clear that there was a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding someone else’s life, a lack of understanding of the personal lives of people two blocks down from you that I think spurred the renaissance of bookstores,” Jerry Jones said.
Erin and Jerry Jones were teachers at a local charter school when they took a literary leap.
“We’d always had this dream in the back of our heads of owning and puttering around an old bookstore, you know in our dotage,” Jerry Jones said. “We decided, ‘Well, why wait?’ We had the time; we had the opportunity. We decided to jump.”
In addition to The Book Nook, the Joneses sell their BIPOC- and LGBTQIA-focused books online and continue to bring them to local markets. They also host a book club and pop-up “Grown Folx” book fairs.
“We chose that focus because as teachers, we saw in the classroom that kids who are reluctant readers just hadn’t been introduced to a set of characters that were authentic to them and their life experiences,” Jerry Jones said.
About a year ago, Cambria Roland also chose to delve into a book niche. Roland started Port City Book Club, which also offers children’s books online, at markets and in a temporary space on Princess Street.
“We sell books for kids between the ages of newborn to middle school,” Roland said, adding that many great independent bookstores in Wilmington and beyond have older ages covered. “We just saw a huge gap of missing children’s books for those ages.”
Like the Joneses, Roland dreamed of becoming a bookseller long before she started Port City Book Club, writing a school report when she was 9 about how she was going to own a children’s bookstore one day.
“I’ve always wanted to be Meg Ryan from You’ve Got Mail,” she said, except, you know, without the (spoiler alert) takeover from a giant retailer.
But even Meg Ryan’s character might stand a better chance these days. Despite fears that Amazon and then the COVID pandemic would wipe all bookstores off the face of the earth, the nation’s stock of independent booksellers has been on the rise in recent years. According to an article this year in Fortune, membership in the American Booksellers Association reached its highest level in more than 20 years.
Roland, whose test audience is her 3-year-old daughter, chooses books for her store and children’s book club that she thinks will help children accept others and cope with life, such as In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek.
“We just want to raise good adults,” Roland said. “That’s our unofficial ethos.”
Each page talks about how people can have multiple feelings in their hearts at the same time, she said.
“When I was reading it, I got to start talking about emotions and how to handle emotions with my daughter,” Roland said.
She said she also reaches adults who love to read through Not Your Mother’s Book Club, which meets monthly.
“It’s nice to just get out and meet other people who love to read but who are also just really craving that human interaction … I think that is really the bigger picture other than just selling books,” Roland said.
The owners of The Roasted Bookery, which could eventually evolve into a store that also serves coffee (hence the name), also see events as an important part of their business. Outside the 160-square-foot Book Nook in the Cargo District’s DesignWorx building, 707 S. 16th St., is a space where the Joneses have the OK from other tenants in the building to work some bookish magic.
“We’re going to turn it into kind of a living room area, have some little bistro tables and some comfy chairs to sit in so that we can start hosting our events,” she said.
For both the Joneses and Roland, events have been a critical part of establishing a customer base.
Jerry Jones said, “I think that bookstores can serve as that third place that folks need, outside of home, outside of work or school, a place we can come together … no matter how fast they are, delivery services, Amazon, just can’t replicate that.”