Anniversary Events Celebrate Locally Owned Bookstore
Story written by Karen Valentine
It took more guts than experience for two novice business owners to move to Kona and open an independent bookstore ten years ago. On the eve of celebrating the 10th anniversary of their dream business, Kona Stories, co-owner Brenda McConnell reminisces about the last ten years, and states, “And sure enough, we’re here and Borders isn’t!”
The large-box retailer was the only bookstore in the area when she and co-owner Joy Vogelgesang moved here after meeting at a book club in California. Brenda came first and started researching, looking for not only her favorite kind of store in the area, but also for social activities like book clubs. She felt there was room in the market for both.
“We weren’t too intimidated and the recession hadn’t happened yet in 2006 when we opened in Mango Court in Kainaliu. We were confident, the economy was booming, and there was a need for a more personal bookstore.”
After Borders went out of business in 2011, data from the American Booksellers Association shows a steady increase in independent bookstores filling the gap, according to an article in the New York Times (Feb. 25, 2015). “In the United States, independent bookstores have rebounded strongly from the financial crisis, increasing their numbers by 27 percent since 2009…. They have also capitalized on a spirit of localism and urban renewal that is coursing through some American cities.”
After struggling through some rough times like other retailers did, Kona Stories survived and has also countered the trend toward e-readers and e-commerce by providing personalized service and advice, along with social activities and an eclectic mix of sidelines in the small store at Keauhou Shopping Center.
“That was a really good move for us,” said Brenda about their move to Keauhou. “It’s made the turnout for our events lots bigger. People aren’t afraid to come here at night, with good parking, lighting and security. Since then our business has been going up steadily every year and now we are close to double our early years.” The store’s popular “Words and Wine” author nights, for example, are a big draw and are booked up with local authors a year in advance. They also host regular book clubs in three categories: fiction, travel and non-fiction.
They seek to appeal to both locals and visitors, including the snowbirds who are also frequent shoppers at the colorful store, where you are also greeted by two “bouncer cats”, Noble and Chloe.
This holiday season the store will not only be offering gift items—in particular quality children’s gifts such as educational toys, puppets, smart games, puzzles and books—but celebrating its 10th anniversary with special events.
On “Small Business Saturday” November 26, they will offer door prizes including signed copies of books by famous authors. The Grinch will make an appearance from 1 to 3 p.m. and they’ll be serving birthday cake and Brenda’s homemade sangria. Every Saturday until Christmas, a different cookbook author will give a talk and sign books while the store serves samples of a recipe from the book, while enjoying sangria.
Brenda and Joy feel people will never lose their passion for holding a real book in their hands. Realistically, they know that the market changes and so has their merchandise. At first, sidelines made up about 10 percent of their business where now they total more like 35-40 percent. This trend is matched nationwide.
“People who use e-readers still come into the store for gifts, calendars and date books,” says Joy.
A recent Fortune magazine story advises, “To survive in the age of Amazon, many bookstores are emphasizing what e-commerce has a tougher time delivering: community and a personal touch. It’s not exactly a new strategy. But it has gotten far more attention in recent years. Amazon’s automated recommendations — couched on its site as ‘customers who bought this item also bought …’ — aren’t quite the same as getting advice from knowledgeable bookstore staff. Indeed, many bookstore owners are trying to create a sort of community center amid their shelves. They’ve filled their store calendars with events like author lectures, writing workshops, and children’s camps.”
One or the other of the two owners is usually in the store at Kona Stories, where they have gotten to know their frequent customers personally, often keeping a list of their reading preferences and phoning them when something comes in.
“There are lots of people that come back and visit every year. We get to know the families and watch the keiki grow up,” says Brenda.
Upcoming events at Kona Stories in Keauhou Shopping Center:
Saturday, Nov. 26: 10th Anniversary with cake, sangria and The Grinch
Friday, Nov. 30: Pre-School Story Time 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 6: “Words and Wine” authors night, 6 to 9 p.m. Three local or traveling authors: Marlise Laa‘a Kea Buhler, Lynn Andrews and Robert Frutos
Tuesday, Dec. 13: Fiction Book Club 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 20: Travel Book Club 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 22: Non-Fiction Book Club 6 to 7:30 p.m.
For more details, visit konastories.com or call (808)324-0350.