About this project
Thank you for taking some time to learn about my Kickstarter campaign. My name is Deborah Bodin Cohen, but most people call me Debbie. In case we have not met before, I am a rabbi, educator and children's author. I am planning on opening an independent bookstore for children and teens called the Story House.
The Story House will be a bookstore with a twist. Its storefront will be a repurposed bookmobile – a school bus outfitted with shelving, carpeting and a seating area.
I've always loved independent bookstores. Each one is a unique space that reflects its owners, staff and community. Unlike chain bookstores, where book selection is made by a corporate office, independent bookstores tailor themselves to their community. They are highly responsive to the unique richness of their town or city.
Bookstores are quiet, but social places. In our highly networked world, it is possible to exist exclusively online. Say, if an inspiring bookseller wants your support, she might write about it on the web. The internet is great, but I want my children and all children also to have the experience of going to the bookstore, sitting side by side with other patrons, discovering new worlds in books and discussing literature and ideas.
To me, the Story House is a way to share great literature, but also transmit an appreciation of community, discourse and quiet, social places.
The Story House is committed to being a vital member of the community. I plan on having programs geared toward underprivileged children and teens. I am also investigating alternative solar power for the bus generator. See more details under FAQs below.
I see a true need for an independent bookstore in my community. I live in Montgomery County, MD, right outside Washington, DC. The county has great demographics for independent bookstores - it is affluent and highly educated. Amazon ships more books per capita to the DC area than any other region!
Yet, there are almost no independent bookstores in Montgomery County itself.Washington, DC, has some great bookstores, of course. But, that's the city, not the suburbs. There is a need for indie bookstores, closer to home.
My original plan was to open a bricks and mortar store. But, I quickly realized one reason that there are not more independent bookstore in Montgomery County: the high cost of rent.
So, I got to thinking. Books are small. They are easily transportable. Libraries, especially in the Midwest and South, have thriving bookmobile programs. Why not take my cue from them and the food trucks and open a mobile bookstore?
Mobile bookstores are rare, but not completely novel. There are some mobile bookstores scattered about the country - Austin, Charlotte, Salt Lake City. . . Author Ann Patchett just opened one as part of her bookstore, Parnassus, in Nashville. But, the Story House will be something new in Montgomery County and Washington, DC.
The more I thought about it, the more that I realized that a mobile store has other advantages, in addition to lower rent. A bricks and mortar bookstore needs to wait for customers. A bookmobile goes out into the community and isn't confined to one location.
Through book fairs, festivals and pop-up events, I plan on making the the Story House into a hub for great children's literature and the literary arts in Montgomery County.
I plan on partnering with schools, PTAs, clubs, faith groups and other community organizations. I'll help them meet their fundraising goals through well-curated, individualized book fairs. I'd like to offer book fairs that are more like literary festivals, enhanced with author visits and other programming.
Many people have never seen the inside of bookmobile, but they are surprisingly spacious and comfortable, with air conditioning, good lighting and places to sit.
Bookmobiles can hold approximately 2500 books. They often have a large awning, to allow for outdoor seating in good weather. I will be seeking a bookmobile with an elevator lift or ramp to be accessible.
Here are a few images of bookmobiles today, so you can get an idea of what the Story House might look like.
- Used Bookmobile - $30,000
- Tax, Title, Fees - $3000
- Transportation after Purchase - $2000
- Alterations to the Bookmobile, i.e. a paint job or vinyl wrap - $5000
- Point of Sales System - $7500
- Displays, Wrapping Paper, Bags, etc. - $1500
- Opening Inventory - $20,000
- Legal & Permits - $2000
- Commercial Driving Lessons - $1500
- Paz Workshop on Bookselling - $2000
- Kickstarter Rewards - $1000
- Kickstarter Fees - $ 1800
- Gifts & Personal Funds Already Raised - $30,000
- Kickstarter Campaign - $20,000
- Loan or Additional Money Raised - $23,800
Through personal funds and gifts,I have raised enough money for legal costs and to purchase an opening inventory, a point of sales system and other assorted items. But, there are not enough funds yet for the bookmobile. That's why I am turning to Kickstarter and you!
It would be so wonderful to reach the goal of $20,000. If by chance, this goal is met and surpassed, the additional funds will be very appreciated and will go to good use. The first priority will be reducing the loan amount for the project. The second priority will be securing warehouse space; currently, I plan on using my basement for storage in the first year.
Stretch Rewards will be added as we get closer to meeting the initial $20,000 goal.
I have received a lot of enthusiastic responses about my plans to open the Story House. But, there has also been some skepticism. Concerned family and friends have asked:
- “Isn’t the book industry in trouble?"
- "What about e-readers?"
- "What about Amazon?"
- "Aren’t indie bookstores going out of business?”
Initially, I had some of the same doubts. But, then, I did some research. I want to share what I learned, perhaps to allay any concerns that you might have. No need to leave an elephant in the room!
1. Children’s books are the strongest sector of the book industry. According to Nielsen, from 2012 to 2014, children’s fiction experienced over 11% growth and children’s non-fiction experienced 13% growth.
2. E-readers and e-books have had less of an impact on the overall book market than once predicted. This is especially true for children’s books. According to the Pew Research Center, 81% of parents feel print books are better to read to children than e-books; only 9% prefer e-books. As one parent told the New York Times, “When you read a book, a proper kid’s book, it engages all the senses. It’s teaching them to turn the page properly. You get the smell of paper, the touch.”
3. In the past several years, independent bookstores have experienced a revival. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of independent bookstores increased by 27%. Industry experts attribute this resurgence, in part, to the weakening of the national chains and e-reader sales falling short of predictions. But, more than lessening competition, independent bookstores have thrived because they offer a unique, community-oriented experience that big box stores and the internet retailers simply can’t duplicate. In our highly technical often impersonal world, independent bookstores offer an alternative.
Risks and challenges
1. I have never driven anything quite so large as a school bus. (Once I drove a U-haul box truck through the Holland tunnel; that was terrifying.) Although bookmobiles typically do not require a commercial driver’s license, I plan on going back to driving school and getting some practice before getting on the road. Many people have learned to drive buses; I sure that I can do it also.
2. Bookmobiles are, well, something of a specialty item. You cannot purchase one at your local car dealership. But, at any time, there are usually a few available from various school districts across the country. I have set the summer of 2017 as my goal for finding the right bookmobile and purchasing it. I am hoping, though, to be able to purchase one much sooner.
3. Bookmobiles most typically utilize a school bus frame but, in recent years especially, other vehicles have been used. There is a chance that the Story House bookmobile, instead of a refurbished school bus, might be a box truck, cargo van or other work vehicle.
4. Part of my business plan involves securing a loan. I have met with a banker and spoken with the representative for a State of Maryland loan program for female business owners. They have assured me that the Story House will qualify for a small business loan, in the $25,000 range, without issue. But, I am waiting until after the Kickstarter campaign concludes to formally apply for a loan. Even if for some odd reason the Story House did not qualify for a loan, I could scale back the plan (for example, do very limited personalization to the vehicle) and move at a slower pace to still complete the project.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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