Book People : An Interview with Cristina Lebron (Events & Marketing Manager)
It wasn’t that long ago that market researchers were observing the demise of hardbound or paperback books and, by extension, the…
It wasn’t that long ago that market researchers were observing the demise of hardbound or paperback books and, by extension, the independent book stores. That obviously didn’t happen. There is a resurgence of Independent Bookstore because it turns out that human beings like how a real book feels in their hands, the satisfaction and bliss that comes from flipping a page and the quick glance , that doesn’t happens with an online purchase.
“Booksellers serve the role of matchmaker between a customer and each book on the shelves,” Ryan Raffaelli writes in his Research Study : Reinventing Retail: The Novel Resurgence of Independent Bookstores.
They possess an eccentric capability to find unexpected hidden gems in their stacks — whether it be up-and-coming authors or unexplored genres — that online algorithms have yet to fully replicate.
What Raffaelli’s research revealed that independent bookstores started thriving on something that e-commerce portals could never provide — a sense of community and belongingness. What brick & mortar bookstores capitalized on was the ability to provide its customers with a robust experience — rather than just the habit of dropping in and buying books.
Training employees to build personal relationships with their customers, stocking and curating books based on personal preferences of book buyers/readers, and getting to know their customers and dropping in book recommendations for when they visit the store for browsing books — these are just some of the ways that bookstores have started providing and they are highly valued by book lovers and much beyond what Amazon or any e-commerce store can provide.
So in an effort to learn more , I had an insightful conversation with Cristina Lebrón who is associated with the bookstore as an Events & Marketing Manager. She has majored in Journalism and English Literature from Florida International University.
Here’s the interview with Cristina —
Q1) Tell our readers here about the BookPeople and it’s fascinating history. What’s it like? What’s so special or unique about the bookshop? Who are the key people behind the bookstore?
Cristina : BookPeople is the largest independent bookstore in Texas and this year marks our 50th year of independent bookselling. The key people behind our bookstore is every single bookseller. This year has been the greatest challenge and without each and everyone of them, this celebration would have not been possible.
On November 11, 1970, two couples opened a small bookstore on the ground floor of a duplex on West 17th street near the University of Texas campus. With a meager budget of only $5,000, they hand-picked their inventory from small presses and focused on alternative politics, political theory, metaphysics, and eastern religions. They named their store Grok Books, from Robert Heinlein’s A Stranger in a Strange Land to promote the idea that engaged reading can foster change and growth in the individual and society.
Q2) Did you grow up in a book centric environment. Was there the “aha” moment in your life when you knew you loved books and wanted to point your career in this direction?
Cristina : I did not grow up in a book centric environment and I can’t remember a specific ‘aha’ moment where my love for books became obvious. I can’t say there was an ‘aha’ moment for my career either. Reading was just something I enjoyed and in a moment where I needed some change, I turned to my indie bookstore. I told them I loved books and wanted to volunteer with whatever they needed help with. The rest is history. What I know is that independent bookstores have always served as a welcoming home for people who are passionate about storytelling, and my work was just another way in which I was steered home.
Q3) How has the bookshop evolved since it has first opened its doors?
Cristina : When BookPeople first opened (in 1996 at our current location) it was the era of behemoth chain bookstores. BookPeople’s approach trying to find an identity as an independent bookstore in this landscape was to go BIG. Stocking over 500,000 titles in three floors — including a cafe and a meditation/reading space on the third floor. Although it initially attracted shoppers for its sheer size & scope, the store became bloated with dead inventory and decided to close the third floor in 1998. Trying to compete with the mega-chain stores (like Barnes & Nobles and Borders) turned out to be the wrong approach and BookPeople slimmed down, focused on local author/interests, customer service and killer events. Our CEO at the time (and Austin Independent Business Alliance founder, Steve Bercu) fought to keep a Borders Bookstore from moving across the street of 6th & Lamar and began the fight against a new threat to independent bookstores across the country = AMAZON. This focus on being branded as fiercely independent and hosting amazing author signings proved to be the winning recipe for BookPeople. The slogan “Keep Austin Weird” became a battle cry for saving America’s small businesses and brought national attention to BookPeople. BookPeople continues to focus on impeccable customer service, great recommendations from our booksellers and over 300 events a year (including representing SXSW and The Texas Book Festival) when there isn’t a global pandemic.” — Bryan Sansone, Store Manager
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Q4) What do you love about bookselling? If you had to put it into words, what’s Book People bookselling philosophy?
Cristina : What I love most about bookselling is coming together with people who love books. I believe BookPeople’s bookselling philosophy is championing the books we love and the stories we believe in, honoring the expertise and the passion of our booksellers, and being the bookstore that our community deserves.
A successful bookseller is a man of infinite resilience, strong digestion , tolerance of odd people , and ability to breathe dusty air and crawl through cobwebs in search of the golden book.” — Lawrence Clark Powell
Q5) What do you think is the role of an independent bookstore, or the role of booksellers at an independent bookstore?
Cristina : Independent bookstores are an essential part of every community. They support the local economy and local job market. They provide spaces where people can come together and engage with fellow readers, authors, and creators. They promote literacy, knowledge and information.
Q6) How Book People is providing support to new literary voices?
Cristina : As booksellers always do: by reading and recommending books! We believe in using our platform to highlight new and relevant voices in the literary landscape. From our author events and subscription services to our handselling on the floor, our main goal is to place books we are passionate about in the hands of readers.
Q7) What kind of events happens at the bookstore for the community?
Cristina : In a normal year, BookPeople hosts over 400 author events for readers of all ages. Many of those events being local Austin authors! We also partner with community events such as the Texas Book Festival and SXSW! Of course, this year our programming looks very different from past years, but we’ve still found a way to keep connected with our readers and authors through our virtual programming.
Q8) Who are some of your favorite authors?
Cristina : Angie Cruz, Patricia Engel (who has a new book coming out in 2021, just read it and it was stunning), Elizabeth Acevedo, Bryan Washington, Brit Bennett.
Q9) Are you seeing any trends in the book industry, or — with regard to Retail’s Seismic Shift — any predictions for the future of bookselling keeping pandemic and latest technology disruptions in mind?
Cristina : I’ve steered clear from predictions this year (very unpredictable days), but for many 2020 has been a wake up call and has really shed light on the importance of local retail. At the risk of losing these community spaces, we’ve seen customers really show up for businesses; and I hope this trend continues beyond the year of Covid-19.
Thank you all for reading and a big thanks to Cristina Lebron for collaborating in today’s post!
If any of my readers here , wish to know more about the bookstore and their work. Do open the links mentioned below . They have a wonderful informative , articulated and well-curated website.
Website : https://www.bookpeople.com/
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/bookpeople/
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/bookpeople/
Twitter : https://twitter.com/TheBookPeople
Blog : https://bookpeopleblog.com/