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The Keys to Selling Books Locally: Community and Conversation

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December 13, 2022

By W.B. King—

There’s no question that it’s easier to buy books online, but as more independent bookstores open locally, it seems that consumers are seeking a tactile, personalized shopping experience, as evidenced by a trio of independent bookshops that have recently opened in the rivertowns.

“I’d be the first to admit I do a lot of my shopping, more than I care to admit, on Amazon. The convenience can’t be matched. That said, children’s books are different,” said Sleepy Hollow resident Cory Krall. “I love buying children’s books for gifts, and I much prefer the opportunity to peruse options in person and get informed recommendations.”

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Krall is among customers frequenting the Sleepy Hollow Bookshop. Located at 93 Beekman Avenue, the business was opened in early November 2022 by Leah Bloom, a 16-year resident of Sleepy Hollow who long felt there was a literary void to fill.

“When my kids were little, I always wanted a bookstore where I could take them and explore books, preferably with a cup of coffee in hand. It was a few years until I seriously considered opening a children’s bookstore and began looking for space,” said Bloom. “Then COVID hit. So, I paused my plans until the pandemic had eased a bit. I began looking for space again in spring 2021.”

For nearly 10 years, Bloom was a librarian at SUNY Purchase. Sleepy Hollow Bookshop, she explained, specializes in titles for children and teens — a bookstore for infants through young adults.

“The store is warm and inviting, with comfy chairs, a chalkboard wall and space for kids to be kids. I’ve been the mom in a store chasing after a toddler with a mischievous streak, and I don’t want parents to be embarrassed when that happens in our store,” she said. “Having the coffee, hot chocolate and pastries [coming soon] means parents can relax a bit while their kids explore lots of books.”

Krall first heard about the new bookstore in a local Facebook group and then struck up a conversation with Bloom.“The store is a wonderful addition to Sleepy Hollow. Beekman Avenue so needed a shop like this that is fun for young children and enjoyable for adults, too,” Krall said. “I’ve visited several times and my kids love to explore new book options and participate in craft activities.”

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About a mile south at 23 Main Street in Tarrytown, Chris Steib also realized the need for a book buying experience that was more than transactional — a hub in the community where readers can crack spines, sharing in their love of all things books.  “I couldn’t have guessed just how supportive the town and community have been. People have been amazingly encouraging,” said Steib, who opened Transom Bookshop in 2021. He said he often hears the following phrase from customers: “I’d rather get it from you than Amazon.”

Among patrons frequenting the shop is Tarrytown resident Sara Levine who, along with her family, lives within walking distance. “We love having Transom in town. We noticed the store being set up and were excited when it opened,” said Levine, who often shops there with her daughter. “Transom is a great addition to our Main Street with great shops and restaurants — the only thing we needed was a bookstore and Chris provided it.”

While buying books remotely is a viable option, Levine prefers to support local businesses. “Even though it is so easy to purchase online, Chris makes it just as easy through Transom. When I find a book I want, instead of buying on Amazon, I’ll message Chris and he orders it for me,” she said.

Transom Bookshop, Steib explains, is a general interest bookstore, but the largest section is dedicated to fiction. “Fiction is what I love and know best. We have a wide range from the classics to the contemporary — best sellers and book club books. We also do a lot of seasonal, like during Halloween — science fiction, horror and fantasy,” he said. “Now during the [Christmas] holiday season, I have a lot of great gift books — non-fiction celebrity biographies, but also mind, body and soul to philosophy to travel. We also have picture books up to young adult.”

Levine, who has purchased fiction, non-fiction and children’s book and coloring books from Transom Bookshop, said Steib makes great recommendations. “I’m in the market next for some holiday gifts and will be frequenting Transom to make it happen,” she said.

Sleepy Hollow Bookshop brings another touch of culture to Beekman Avenue (phot by Leah Bloom)

A Sense of Comradery

Like Steib, Bloom said she is overwhelmed by the community’s support of her upstart business. “People have been going out of their way to shop in the Bookshop and have told us how excited they are to have a local children’s bookstore on Beekman Avenue. Some are eagerly awaiting when we begin to serve coffee, hot chocolate, and pastries,” she continued. “Many people have complimented our selection of books across all ages of children and have complimented how the store feels.”

Despite the two bookstores being close in proximity, Steib and Bloom feel unified. “Chris and I actually just chatted last week. The more independent bookstores, the better,” said Bloom. “And each of our stores has a different focus.”

One week after the Sleepy Hollow Bookstore opened, Steib received a box of books intended for Bloom’s store, which he happily hand delivered. “It was great opportunity to check out her store and talk with Leah. There is a sense of comradery. There is some overlap, but I can see us working together and having a lot of fun.”

Steib realized just how supportive his fellow bookstore owners are this past October. “I had emergency surgery on Halloween weekend — the busiest weekend of the year,” he shared. “I was in the hospital for three days and Jennifer [Kohn] from the Village Bookstore in Pleasantville left her store to come run mine — it was the most touching, wonderful gesture.”

Sara Davidson’s Picture Book tucked away in Dobbs Ferry’s Palisades Building (photo by Barrett Seaman)

A Pandemic Baby

Picture Book, located in the lobby of Hudco’s co-workspace in Dobbs Ferry’s Palisades Building, can’t rely on street traffic for business, but enough people from the building and beyond are drawn to its combination of children’s books and adult illustrated art and cookbooks have made it a going enterprise. This “pandemic baby,” as proprietor Sara Davidson Johns calls her “store,” was initially intended as an interim location on the way to a bricks-and-mortar Main Street venue when she opened in October 2020. But business has improved each year since—enough so that she has opened a second shop in a similar co-working space in Cross River in northern Westchester.

“We had a really big weekend with the Holiday Trolley” bringing shoppers down to the remote location, she says. “I was talking all day long,” she confesses in a barely audible voice a few days later. While illustrated volumes are the core of her brand, Davidson also offers contemporary fiction and sells a fair amount on her web site,

Like other indie start-ups, Davidson sees her store as an alternative to Amazon and the big chains. “People want a tactile experience—and someone to talk to.”

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