When worlds collide….

Sometimes life and business are at a crossroads.  When only one path can be chosen, which one do you take?

Five years ago, my dream of owning and operating a unique second-hand bookshop was just starting to become a reality; I had a mission and, at long last, a business loan to back it up.  Another year would pass (with many doors being slammed in my face for being young, female AND a start-up entrepreneur) before I would get even a long shot at leasing commercial retail space…..but I did get it done.

Measures of Success

I knew from the start that this location would be quirky at best; a lot of my hard work was to go unnoticed or be misunderstood entirely.  In a neighborhood riddled with the tension of constant construction and all the potential in the world to become the next great Seattle hot spot, I planted a seed in a plot of urban soil that had the ability to sprout something both retro and revolutionary.  And sprout it did!

Where customers are hard to come by, every want and need counts.  Before you know it, the pressure of being all things to all people is upon you.  Our coffee crowd cried “LUNCH!” so we made it.  Our book devotees demanded special orders, so we did it.  Both were thirsty enough for beer and wine, so we fought through the arduous mine field of red tape and paperwork to make that happen as well.

As a result, we have one of the most diverse customer bases a small business could hope for.  There truly is something for every walk of life within our walls.  We earned the moniker “community living room” after our monthly Open Mic night grew wings and started to fly on its own.

We are loved.  We are treasured.  We are respected.  We are a diamond in the rough.  Mission accomplished!

Being a square peg in a round hole is both a blessing and a curse, a double-edged sword if ever there was one.

The Achilles Heel(s) of Running a Small Business

  •  Being (too far) ahead of your time
  •  Location, Location, Location

It is possible–to an extent at least–to control the environment within your own business.  Touch up the paint here, move this piece of furniture to a slightly different angle…any number of tiny adjustments can make a huge difference.  However, the environment outside your business, even a few steps outside the front door, is virtually impossible to control.

I have a great, loyal following of customers, and for that I’m grateful; Inner Chapters would have never made it this far without you!  Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough of you to keep pace with the ever-rising cost of doing business in this place at this time.  It’s so close to everything, and yet so far away.

Being in a neighborhood that is both old and new has its trappings: simultaneously there are feelings of excitement and bitterness as old things are destroyed (or obscured) to make room for new things.  People who are new to the area may be greeted with open arms or vicious disdain by the die-hard locals, desperately clinging to the comforts of the familiar.

Having a customer base that changes at the drop of a hat can be quite a challenge, because on the one hand you want to sell whatever the people are buying, but on the other there’s a need to be true to your vision–and yourself, for that matter.  My vision was to anchor the small retail core that this neighborhood so desperately needs;  I set out to lay a foundation that would appeal to other unique retailers so we could band together and make this area glow with excitement and commerce…….but it hasn’t come to pass, YET.  There were so many unknowns 5 years ago, anything could have happened. What did happen just hasn’t worked out for me.  This business model belongs in a residential neighborhood, not an office park.  If I could wait it out for 5 more years until the area is truly ready for me, I would.  But that’s not an option…..

  •  What this is about:

Cash is the life’s blood of a business.  It ebbs and flows, sometimes there’s a pattern, sometimes it’s erratic as hell (unlike collecting a regular paycheck where you know what you’re getting and when).  If only the expenses were synchronized to keep it all in some semblance of balance!  Risks must constantly be taken in the hopes that enough sales will roll in to cover that power bill, or rent, or taxes.  Sometimes you win the game, and other times you wake up in the cold sweat of sheer terror for weeks.

After you’ve tirelessly done everything humanly possible to create a self-sustaining organism that also sustains you, it certainly does sting when you still come up short through no fault of your own.  At some point you hit a wall and decide that enough is enough.

And then life happens!  The universe has a way of providing clarity when the hardest decisions must be made.  I was standing at a fork in the road of life: the prospect of relocating the business was becoming more appealing with the impending end of my lease (it’s not that I’m being kicked out, but taking on 2-5 more years here isn’t exactly in my best interest at this point), and then I found out that I’m due to bring a new, wee evil genius into the world this coming August….well that changes things just a bit now, doesn’t it?!  Wait, can’t I just go on maternity leave?  Not an option.  I wouldn’t currently be running the business solo if I could afford even part-time employees, let alone full staff for 3 months or longer.   What does this mean?  Well, we can still relocate–just not immediately or seamlessly.

Inner Chapters has been my baby for 5 years.  There’s a new baby in my life now, and it would be unfair to all if I were to attempt burning my (currently dwindling) candle at both ends.

  • What this is NOT about:

It is widely thought that the printed word (and thus bookstores) will go completely extinct in our lifetime.  Every time a bookstore moves or closes, the chest-beating laments resound like there’s some kind of inevitable book-pocalypse just around the corner.  I find it funny (and at the same time enraging) that the individuals who go off 0n extensive diatribes about the tragic loss of so many lovely bookshops RARELY BUY A BOOK.  But I digress….

The book and the bookstore as we know and love them are, in fact, not dying but changing (read my manifesto on this topic here).  These symbiotic species are in the middle of an evolutionary population bottleneck, and they will emerge as something recognizable and yet (perhaps?) quite different, but certainly stronger and more valuable than ever to the modern human.

Never forget that what’s happening to bookshops is also happening to nearly every small business in this country.  The Main Street vs. Wall Street battle is very real, and it will continue for years to come.

Whose side are you on?

9 Responses to “When worlds collide….”
  1. Patrick says:

    poignant, sincere and beautiful post. thanks for being everything that you have been for me; a barista and purveyor of fine books. but most importantly i want to thank you for becoming a true friend.

  2. Kristina, thank you for being a welcoming presence around the corner from work – and for supporting our Employee Giving campaign every year. All the best for the new flesh-and-blood baby, and for the next incarnation of the brick-paper-vision baby.

  3. Michelle says:

    Kudos and congratulations to you for filling a niche and providing a great service. All our best with your new chapter!

  4. Lynda Sexson says:

    Kristina! I am grateful you are safe; i am delighted by your baby to appear in August; I am sad that Inner Chapters is folding (for now); and I am even more saddened to learn it on the death day of Maurice Sendak. . . but, life is unfolding and you will read Sendak to your lovely baby and you will reimagine your business and I will look forward to the next chapters. love, Lynda

  5. Jody Parker says:

    Inner Chapters filled my coffee and book needs perfectly. I loved the cozy feeling of retreat that you fostered. I always felt welcomed and valued when I walked in your door and I absolutely loved your books and prices. I transferred to a different job in Everett a couple of months ago, (I will never find the like of Inner Chapters there) and in a bittersweet way, I am grateful that I left the neighborhood before you, because what you created at Inner Chapters was beloved to me, and I want to keep that memory the way it is. You are blessed to have a wee evil genius on the way, and the wee evil genius is even luckier to have chosen you as mother. What a happy way to evolve in your life.
    Jody aka Jolynn

  6. Cori says:

    You are amazing and I am proud of you for living your dream and mine sister! Working at one was the best job I ever had and creating one takes an artist. And a world w/o bookstores would be dire; who cannot remember and love the smell of different books, turning the pages, the texture of different pages from different types and ages, holding one in your hands, just opening them up!

  7. Christopher says:

    I just opened your moving email to figure out where you went. Congratulations! I’m sorry the storefront had to go, but I’m guessing you’re in the throes (by now) of something a little more wonderful. I hope someday that a new chapters will open, and that the story between them is full of joy.

  8. Ed B says:

    Kristina, I just checked your web site to see if you had re-incarnated elsewhere in this marvelous metropolis of ours. I am glad that you have a little one to help you forward on whatever path you choose, as this world (and this city, specifically this perplexing and frustrating)city, needs more people like you.

    I think your ruminations about the frustrating fate of your bookstore, at that location, are right on target. The independent bookstore will survive, but it will have to be–more than a bookstore. It will have to be a place for books, and people to gather, and possibly knock down a few drinks, or a few coffees, or work on a project for hours, or just internet surf. I think you were on the right path but…..

    The SLU area is in the process of evolving into–whatever if will become, it’s not there, and may never be “there”. A mature, robust neighborhood is going to have an appeal to people in different life stages–not only the career-oriented singles, the Amazonians and the techie geeks which have probably over-infested this fair city, but also young families, empty-nesters, and retirees, etc. SLU, to the agree it holds appeal, attracts and appeals to a fairly narrow niche in a pretty-defined age paradigm who are more concerned with career climbing and getting up and out to the next best thing. The great majority of its residents aren’t going to still be living there 2,3,4 much less 10 years from the present, and they are not interested in establishing, building and strengthening that neighborhood, since there is no discrete, identifiable neighborhood to speak of. I appreciate what you did to make the corner of SLU you occupied a warmer, better and friendlier place, and I have no doubt you will find in a succeed in a location where your efforts and the product you sell will be better appreciated.

    Me thinks a neighborhood which gets both a healthy presence of commercial activity (perhaps near a collection of decent eateries) and has a large population of varied residential (single & multi-family homes) cutting across a spectrum of age and life-stage levels within walking distance would be the winning ticket for a business like yours. Much of the city I am unfamiliar with, but there are areas that I’ve seen (near the East-West Bookstore, parts of Ballard, Magnolia, for example) which I think would fit the bill.

    Good luck, good fortune, and may you and yours live well, long, and flourish

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  1. […] spray park fun last summer. Inner Chapters had Stone IPA on tap. We will miss you. Best of luck. innerchaptersbooks.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/when-worlds-c… Share this:EmailFacebookTwitterRedditPinterestMorePrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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