When the Barnes & Noble on Washington Street closed in 2010, Hoboken residents were left with just our (admittedly fantastic) library and Symposia Community Bookstore to feed our literary addictions (and while we love Symposia, it’s a used book store only, so if you’re dying for the latest hardcover you’ll have to wait and hope someone does some spring cleaning).
While many people protested Barnes & Noble’s decision for personal reasons, the store’s stated reason—the rent was too damn high—felt legit to residents. We’ve seen not only our own rent go up and up, but the revolving door of businesses that launch with much fanfare only to close up a few months later has sped up, very likely due to the rising rents.
Which is one reason everyone was so excited when Little City Books announced they would be coming to Hoboken. Owned and operated by Kate Jacobs, Donna Garban, and Emmanuelle Morgen, Little City Books kicked off in a thoroughly 21 st century way—by raising extra money through an Indiegogo campaign. In the end, they took in nearly $23,000 in order to give the store an extra gloss of fixtures and inventory, opening their doors in May 2015. And since then, the little bookstore that could has been more than just a place to pick up the latest James Patterson thrillers or old classics. It’s become an intrinsic part of the Hoboken community.
The Expanding Store
From opening, Little City became a hotspot for one of the largest Hoboken demographics: Young parents with kids. Garban noted to Publisher’s Weekly that “[people] do not read picture books online,” and the store began offering Storytime sessions almost immediately—which were incredibly popular (they happen every Friday at 11AM). There’s even a program where kids can read out loud to a therapy dog to get over their fears and frustrations.
This success led the trio to make a bold decision: Expanding the store into the space around the corner, 800 square feet now dedicated to kids’ books, and designated Little City Kids. This gives them more space for inventory for younger readers, more space for retail items, and more space for Storytime and events like author readings and books clubs.
Speaking of Book Clubs
Little City Books is also a great example of a brick-and-mortar store that knows it exists in a social media world. The store offers a long list of Book Clubs that anyone can join—check out their web page or the in-store info sheets, pick a club, start reading, and show up for the discussion. There’s the Classics Book Club, currently reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton; the Lady Memoir Book Club, currently reading Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo; The Sci Fi Book Club, reading Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch—the list goes on and on.
They also have a robust calendar of author visits and readings, which isn’t too surprising since Emmanuelle Morgen is a literary agent, after all. Harlan Coben is showing up in February, along with Ian Rankin, and past visitors have included Brandon Sanderson, Emma Donoghue, and Mark Leyner. In short, Little City Books isn’t just a dusty spot where you can buy a few books, it’s made itself into an indispensable, cheerful, inviting space where Hobokenites gather to discuss literature, swoon over their favorite authors, and entertain the whole family.
Underneath all the pizazz, of course, are some solid fundamentals—good customer service, a great website that recognizes we’re in the year 2017, and a loyalty program that just “works” without a ton of effort or ridiculous cards. The space remains pretty small, so their inventory is limited—but all that means is that you might have to occasionally order your book and pick it up a day or two later.
That’s the secret: Solid fundamentals and being of service to the community. Sure, they want you to come into the store hoping you’ll buy a book, but that doesn’t make the events they host and plan any less useful, entertaining, or constructive. In 2016 they announced they’d started to make a profit on the store, and every book lover in town breathed a sigh of relief.
If you haven’t spent some time at Little City Books, check out their Events calendar and dive on in!