Ever since I fell in love with reading (“late” in life, I was in college!), I’ve always dreamed of owning a bookstore. It felt pretty abstract for a while. More like watching You’ve Got Mail and thinking about how wonderful it would be to own a bookstore. (Minus the whole Foxbooks taking over part.)
The more I dreamed about it, the more it seemed like something I actually wanted to do. More like a plan/goal than a dream. Especially moving to this amazing small town with a great community, I knew it was something I was going to try to do.
(Just a spoiler alert in case you’re getting excited, it’s not happening just yet for me. Sorry to disappoint, trust me I’m even more disappointed!)
I wrote a list of what I wanted to accomplish in the next 10 years on January 1. Among a short list of big goals and dreams for the decade, I wrote “bookstore.” And then less than a week later, I got word that the adorable bookstore in town was closing. I found out via a Facebook post at 11pm as I was trying to fall asleep. My heart started pounding. I was both crushed that the town could potentially be losing the bookstore and then thrilled that this could be my chance. Mike had already fallen asleep and I sat awake staring at the ceiling for thirty minutes driving myself crazy with the fact that I wasn’t ready for it, but I wanted it. Mike rolled over at one point and kind of opened his eyes, so I pounced at my opportunity, “Oh great, you’re awake. The bookstore is closing and I want it.”
Actually saying the words out loud made me realize how badly I wanted to make it happen. Over the next two weeks I realized this was absolutely a dream of mine, while I worked through some numbers and talked to various people (real estate, branding, interiors, independent booksellers, etc.). Sometimes it seems like just an abstract idea, but it was clear: this is what I wanted.
Unfortunately, the reality was that I was nowhere near prepared to do it in such a time crunch. It was going to be a nine-week turnaround before the lease would start and then it’d be crunch time from there to get things operational as to not hemorrhage money. As real as this dream felt to me, it was just as real that this was NOT the time for it to happen.
I surprised myself by how crushed and devastated I felt. It was a long shot to begin with: a handful people also wanted the space, the timeline was very tight, and I have zero experience running an independent bookstore.
However, I did walk away from this whirlwind with a LOT of new information beyond just my realization that I legitimately and strongly wanted this dream to come to fruition. I had so many amazing people reach out to me to connect me to friends and family friends who own or owned independent bookstores. I learned about organizations, retreats, and workshops that educate people on owning and operating independent bookstores. I met people in town who are just as passionate as I am about books and community and how they can come together. I created a skeleton of a business plan that I can elaborate on as time goes on.
Essentially, this lit a fire under me. I know in my heart that I didn’t have the bandwidth to focus on all those things above in my mid/late twenties. I knew when I wrote my list of goals that I wasn’t ready to start a new business in the first few years of the decade. But I will say that I was super disappointed in myself nonetheless. I felt like a failure for not being able to get it together in two weeks. (Which, rationally, is a ridiculous level of pressure to put on myself.) I also know that even if I HAD gotten it together, it could have been an epic failure because it was rushed.
Still, I had to sit with this disappointment for a while. And it was made even more challenging by people in town asking how it was going and I had to admit, out loud, that I couldn’t make the timing work.
I read listen to a lot of business podcasts and people always mention these types of “milestones” (for lack of a better word) that they faced before they got their business off the ground. But it’s usually summed up in a few sentences at best, and with the benefit of hindsight. I imagine I’ll be able to quickly summarize this very brief, in the grand scheme of things, period of time at some point down the road.
I know there will be a point in the future where I think, “thank goodness it happened this way.” And in the meantime, I have a lot of things to prioritize and get in order so that when the next opportunity presents itself (hopefully in, like, four or five years haha) I’m ready and can put things into action.