by Melissa Face
I have been rooting for independent bookstores since I first saw Meg Ryan star in You’ve Got Mail. Anyone who has seen the film knows that F-O-X may as well have spelled an obscenity. In recent months, however, COVID has been the real threat to independent stores; so, it made sense for me to celebrate one of Richmond’s local treasures during the month of December.
Please grab your favorite beverage; make yourself comfortable, and join Melanie Ferguson – shop manager and buyer of bbgb books – and me, as we chat about her background, the job of a bookstore manager, and the vital role that an independent bookstore plays within a community. And please, consider bbgb books and other independently owned stores for your shopping needs this holiday season!
Me: Tell me about your coffee habit. Are you a daily coffee drinker?
Melanie: Oh yes! We like to say that bbgb is fueled by Sugar & Twine. I usually go for their oat milk latte, but I’m not really the type to turn down any coffee.
Me: Tell me a little about your beginnings as a bookshop manager and buyer.
Melanie: I actually majored in entrepreneurship and family business as an undergrad, with hopes of owning a bookshop one day, but of course no path is quite that straightforward. I had a few odd jobs following graduation and then took a part-time job in a school library while working on my Masters in Library and Information Sciences. The school held a book fair with bbgb each year, which is how I met the shop owner, Jill. I called her after the fair and asked if she needed any help. A few weeks later, I was working school book fairs for them and was hooked. I finished my degree and am now the shop manager and buyer. It’s such a special shop with a tightly curated collection which makes it especially fun to buy for.
Me: Describe a time in childhood when you were completely enchanted with a book.
Melanie: Just one?! My childhood was shaped by the books I read and characters that inspired me. Daisy-Head Mayzie was one that had a big impact on me. I memorized the entire thing before I learned how to read (I’m sure my mom still has nightmares about reading it so many times). Eloise was another favorite, I was (and still am) drawn to books with quirky protagonists that know exactly who they are. Once I was able to read on my own, I read just about anything I could get my hands on.
Me: What is the process like when a new book you’ve ordered arrives at the store? What do you have to do?
Melanie: New books release on Tuesday, so Mondays are like Christmas morning in the shop. We make it a point to read just about every book before we order it, so by the time a book arrives, we already know we love it and can’t wait to start hand-selling it. As the buyer, most of my work happens before the books get to the shop. But I do the merchandising in the shop too, so it’s always fun to find the perfect spot for a new book on the shelves.
Me: How do you go about making recommendations for readers?
Melanie: I always start by asking what books the reader has enjoyed recently. That usually gives me a good sense of what types of books they like and what their reading ability is. A lot of times when they name a book they’ve loved it sparks an idea for me, and I will start booktalking. Once I’m telling them about books, I can really fine-tune suggestions based on their reactions to certain titles.
Me: What are you most looking forward to about resuming normal business operations?
Melanie: Hand-selling, hands down! I’m sure it’s no surprise that we love to talk about books here. It’s been odd not having any kids in the shop; that’s when I get to hear all about what books kids have been enjoying and also tell them about my favorites. We just recently opened by appointment, so we are really enjoying sharing the wonderful stories that came in while everyone was staying home.
Me: How is an independent bookstore an important part of the community?
Melanie: I’ve always found something magical about independent bookstores, each one has its own unique personality and gives bookselling a special twist. Indies, no matter where they are, have the wonderful opportunity to truly know their readers and community. One of the most important things to us at the shop is giving back to our own community. We donate as many books as we possibly can to kids and educators. Currently, we are donating books to the Lit Limo to help get new books into the hands of Richmond Public School kids who are learning from home and don’t have the same access to their school libraries. We know that books have the power to help us empathize, grow, and bring us together. As an independent bookstore, we love being able to find those gems and share them with our community.
This holiday season, shop bbgb books online, or schedule a private, in-shop appointment. Learn more here.
***Order your copy of I Love You More Than Coffee.