An Informal Hub
Donna Paz Kaufman and her husband, Mark, opened Story & Song Bookstore Bistro, an independent bookstore café in Amelia Island, Florida in 2018, but have devoted their careers to helping others launch bookstores since the 1990s. This 4,500 square foot storefront “celebrates literary, culinary, visual and performing arts.” Kaufman’s dream of owning a bookstore began when she was just 16 years old and visited a bookstore café — this was her “magical moment.”
Kaufman’s vision was to create a community-based bookstore. She began her dream with a volunteer effort — An Evening of Story & Song, a concert series she launched prior to opening the store.
“Deciding to open Story & Song was a significant decision (for us) as it meant operating two businesses simultaneously and investing more of our time launching and growing a hybrid concept,” she shared. “Since (we had) been training booksellers for years, the pressure was on to deliver something refreshingly unique.”
She found that people were seeking a “third place” that offered warmth and excellent customer service. “We launched it, and it has blossomed in amazing and some unpredictable ways,” Kaufman said. By the end of its first year, it successfully cultivated a mailing list of more than 5,000 people.
“Each day is filled with love for our crew, customers, books, artists and for a magic place that has been embraced and shaped by the community,” she said. “Story & Song is not burdensome work. It is our passion and our purpose.”
Three buyers collaborate with sales reps and peruse catalogs. To simplify the buying process, the team developed two separate book budgets — one for adult books and one for children’s books. Kaufman said that they divide those lists into a frontlist (new releases) and a backlist (older titles with high demand).
She shared that with more than 2,000 book releases each week it is paramount that space and budget “are constantly front-of-mind.” Kaufman said publishers release catalogs three times a year and the buyers review more than 8,000 titles each release season.
The store sells consignment items from local artists and utilizes the event space to host three art shows per year. Local handmade jewelry is popular as all the proceeds are donated to local charities. Other merchandise includes small pottery items, greeting cards, painted shells and art created from beach artifacts.
Story & Song is known for its greeting card selections, primarily sourced from Cardthartic, Compendium, Pictura and Leanin’ Tree. The store also carries a selection of MOVA Globes.
Items from the Library of Flowers; Lollia and TokyoMilk lines; t-shirts; book nerd socks from Out of Print; DEMDACO products; puppets from Folkmanis and Kids Preferred; and Merrymakers book-related plush are also available.
Story & Song’s space incorporates “layer displays throughout the selling space.” Displays at each entrance incorporate “focal points” to spotlight particular items.
The shop carries a minimum of 12,000 titles and its “customers appreciate the displays and shelf-talkers to help them make selections,” she detailed.
Displays are rotated weekly. “Tuesday is the ‘lay down,’ or release date, in the book business. Owners are asked by publishers and wholesalers to sign affidavits that they will honor the official release date and not display or sell the merchandise earlier. This policy stretches to all vendors in the book business and came as a result of chain stores receiving their allocations before independent booksellers, an unfair advantage. Asking everyone to honor release dates levels the playing field,” she explained.
Kaufman detailed that “first” displays typically promote books for upcoming events since the store has a robust program schedule. Special occasions and holidays are celebrated with displays that combine books and gifts. She also emphasized that noteworthy moments can drive merchandising, such as the death of a beloved author, an announcement of the National Book Awards, or books with current movie tie-ins.
Kaufman’s favorite display space is in the “Be Well” section of the store that features a cozy chair, windows with plenty of natural light and French provincial tables that highlight selected books. “Before opening, the tables were painted funky colors to match the store’s palette and tiny glass shelves were installed in one window to utilize the space,” she described. “Customers will find books on mindfulness, relationships, happiness, faith, health, peace, and passion. A customer favorite is I am Woman, I am Invincible. I am Tired.”
Weekly emails, personal shopping, complimentary giftwrap, shipping services and its Circle of Readers program appeal to customers. The Circle of Readers program includes weekly email blasts and a financial incentive for customers once they reach $200 in accumulated purchases.
There is even a bistro on premise. “When I managed Davis- Kidd Booksellers in Nashville, I experienced the magic of a hybrid business like a bookstore café. Ray Oldenburg’s concept of the ‘Third Place’ — not home or work, but places that are the ‘heart of community’ — that is what we wanted to create for ourselves and our community,” she explained. The Bistro is popular and offers catering services within the community and it also provides food and beverages for events held in its Art Gallery.
“Food is an expression of love and community. It fits perfectly with our mission and our goals of Community, Conversation and Connection.”
EVENTS & PROGRAMS
Events and programs are part of its overall success and provide Kaufman a method to collect customer email addresses. She sends out a weekly newsletter that outlines all the events for the week.
The Art Gallery at Story & Song is the main event space and it can seat 130 guests for theatre-styled events and 75 guests for sit-down occasions. Events such as Children’s Story Time on Saturdays, monthly book group discussions, monthly TEDTalk discussions, weekly StoryCast, stage readings, author presentations, literary luncheons, an monthly Evening of Story & Song Concert Series with singer-songwriters (even Grammy Award winners,) informal music jams and Cinema & Conversation for independent films.
“A bookstore bistro is an informal hub. It’s a place where you can be alone, but not lonely. It’s a place where you can travel anywhere and take on any adventure. It’s a place you meet people like yourself … curious,” she described. And Story & Song’s focus on “serving people and creating community” has created an appealing, welcoming environment for customers.
Read more about Kaufman’s other business, Paz & Associates a bookstore training group.