Browseabout Books : An Interview with Susan Kehoe
Kehoe has worked at Browseabout Books for 16 years. Though the sale was only announced in November, Kehoe told the Gazette, the ownership…
Susan Kehoe, the longtime manager of Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, had bought the 45-year-old store from founders and owners Steve and Barbara Crane.
Kehoe has worked at Browseabout Books for 16 years. Though the sale was only announced in November, Kehoe told the Gazette, the ownership transition has “been in the works for years.”
“The plan is to keep doing what’s always been done,” Kehoe said. “This just felt like the right time to do it. Honestly, I’ve been here so long that it doesn’t really feel that much different.”
“Once we all get on the other side of this thing, then we can start to evaluate what the immediate needs are. Three generations of families have been coming to Browseabout Books. It’s loved in this community and we want to keep it that way.” says Susan
When you buy a book, you’re buying an intellectual and emotional journey, you’re buying an education. It’s a beautiful launching point, really. It’s so different than buying an object. There’s a connection that’s made when you come in a bookstore and have conversations with booksellers, authors, and fellow readers. Bookstores are safe places to explore new ideas, discuss difficult topics and issues, or and an escape from the world around us. They allow you to become part of and support your community — shopping at independent bookstores helps keeps tax dollars in your community, create jobs, help the environment, invest in entrepreneurship and small business, and so much more!
We have an obligation to support bookstores. To buy from bookstores, to encourage others to buy books from indie bookstores, to protest the closure of bookstores. If you do not value them then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.
I had a wonderful & insightful conversation and Q&A session with Susan about Bookselling Business Ecosystem .
Excerpts from the Interview: —
Q1) Hi Susan, thank you for doing this interview or Q&A session with me. I am really thrilled for this collaboration. Can you tell us about the history of the bookshop and your role in it? Tell our readers here when and how the bookshop came into existence? What was the mission and vision that the founders had projected when they opened the bookshop?
Susan : Browseabout Books was founded by Barbara and Steve Crane in 1975. They were both teachers in Wilmington, DE and it was Barbara’s dream to open a bookstore. Rehoboth Beach was not a year round destination then so they were able to run the shop in the summer, then go back to teaching the rest of the year. We strive to be a “fun, friendly place to shop”. We are located in the heart of downtown Rehoboth Beach, so we are focused on making sure that vacationers and locals alike have a bookstore to call their own.
Q2) Tell us about your background. Did you grew up in book — centric environment? When did you decide that you want to be in the bookselling business? Was there a eureka moment in your life when you knew you loved books and wanted to point your career in this direction? I have always loved books!
Susan : I was an English major in college at Virginia Tech, I was a trade book buyer and manager at the Virginia Tech University stores, then I moved to Northern Virginia and became a commissioned publishers’ sales representative. Browseabout Books was my favorite store in my territory, and when Steve told me that he wanted to groom someone to take over the business, I was immediately hooked. I moved here 17 years ago, and have not regretted a moment since. My husband Matt and I purchased the store from the Cranes November of 2021. There was no “aha” moment… I love books and bookselling and wouldn’t trade my choices for anything.
Q3) Can you share some insights on your bookselling philosophy?
Susan : There’s at least one perfect book out there for EVERY reader. There is nothing more satisfying to me than working with a customer to find that book. We have an expansive children’s book section, and was love to help foster a love of reading in children.
Q4) Booksellers possess a unique ability 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. They serve the role of matchmaker between a customer and each book on the shelves.
What considerations does the booksellers at Browseabout Books keep in mind while curating the shelves for readers? How do they make those “literally a thousand choices” that lead to the displays we see on the shelves?
Susan : We have an incredibly well-read staff! Our “staff picks” section is the most frequently shopped area of the store. We do not fudge our staff picks just because something is popular; if a staff member truly does not love a book it does not make it to that section. We have blurbs about the books there with a signature from the staff member who loved it. Our customers trust us and seek out their favorite bookseller’s name on books. We feature the Indie Bestseller list at the front of our store; we respect other independent booksellers’ recommendations, as well. Our staff reads a ton of ARCs and many listen to LibroFM.
Q5) If literature is an ecosystem, then bookstores are its foundation. They’re where literature intersects with community. They introduce people to new and idiosyncratic books while hosting events to support authors. Through it all, they serve as neighbourhood community centres for readers and book lovers.
Ryan Raffaelli, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied the resurgence of independent bookstores, says that the key to indie bookstores’ growth in the today’s era is building community.
How Browseabout books has cultivated this idealistic atmosphere?
Susan : I totally agree with that statement! From our beginning, Browseabout has made a huge effort to be the center of our community by supporting our local schools and charities, including the Cape Henlopen Book Mobile, ReadAloud Delaware, Delaware Humane Association, Brandywine SPCA and so many more. We have an expansive, well-curated local author section and give a lot of support to the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild. Before COVID, we had author events almost daily during the summer, including a free storytime for kids, local and nationally known authors in our event room, and off-site luncheons for some of our bigger authors. During COVID, we partnered with our friends at the Lewes Public Library to provide online events for our patrons; we have hosted more than 150 virtual events in 2020 and 2021. We are the official bookseller for the History Book Festival in Lewes, Delaware. We cultivate relationships with our year-round readers and always strive give the stellar level of customer service to our daily and weekly visitors during the summer. We have been in business in downtown Rehoboth for 46 years; Browseabout has become a tradition that has been passed down through generations, and that’s really exciting to me.
Q6) Every independent bookstore is unique, according to Bob Eckstein (New Yorker Cartoonist), but many of them have resident cats, attract eccentric regulars and have inspired marriage proposals among the shelves. Successful bookstores are places for people to gather together and where community ties are strengthened.
Tell our readers here about any memorable event or workshop or any interview which happened at the bookshop.
Susan : I so wish we could have a bookstore pet! But, we are simply too busy in the summer to try to keep up with one. We have had marriage proposals, wedding photography shoot, and an actual wedding at Browseabout. We do have a cast of recurring eccentric characters
Q7) Is there a novelist that you think deserves more attention/readership than he or she currently receives? Which book do not enough people know about?
Susan : I have a few quirky books that I love to recommend — The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas and Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. I really have to spend some time with a customer to see if it’s for them. It always pleases me to put them in someone’s hands; I feel like I’ve found a kindred spirit. I also love A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, but that book just wrecked my soul. I recommend it with a caveat that you will not emerge unscathed after reading it.
Q8) Bibliophiles, head to Browseabout books, an indie-bookshop with a massive collection of books and a beautiful old world charm that gives such warm vibes. The place smells of books of every kind, every genre. It’s so liberating. One can sit here for hours. Amidst the fragrance of books that had the essence of so many books who feels like friends of mine, they seem like that they are hanging out on a shelves and are just waiting to hug me. How important do you think bookstores are today? Do Bookstores matters to the community?
Susan : Browseabout has an amazing selection of books; we are half bookstore and half gifts, including toys, home décor, stationery, and a café. The books remain the heart of the store. I’ll go back to the Ryan Raffaelli quote you referenced above in speaking about the importance of bookstores. Indie bookstores and small, locally owned businesses of all sorts really are the heart of each community. They are what brings vibrancy and excitement to their town- a world that only consists of chain stores and Amazon is a dull, interesting prospect. Every independent bookstore really has a life of their own and is such a reflection of their community’s values and interests.
Q9) The reason indie bookstores are making a comeback is the way they connect to the community, and social media is making that easier than ever.
#Bookstagram is creating a thriving space — and community — for bibliophiles on Instagram.
The hashtag #bookstagram has been used by bibliophiles for more than 30 million photos on Instagram. A heavily filtered photo at the local indie bookstore, lost among the towering stacks of books, signals to the world your sophisticated literary preferences. We are spending more time on our devices than ever. The technology backlash has been a boon for books: As people try to tamp down their screen time, they’re turning back to reading more physical books.
How the bookstore is embracing Instagram — and the visual appeal of books?
Susan : We enjoy posting on Instagram, and it’s just a natural format for books! People do love the feel of a book in their hands, and we all need a break from our screens.
Q10) Could you tell us about the virtual or digital opportunities during the lockdown, and how far the Bookstore team efforts have been successful?
Susan : Our partnership with the Lewes Public Library to present zoom events to our authors was hugely successful! We have hosted more than 150 virtual events with more than 7000+ attendees. We virtually hosted Lily King, John Grisham and Elin Hildebrand, Eddie Glaude, Jr, John Brennan, Joan Lunden, and Erik Larson (as part of the 2021 virtual History Book Festival. And, while we were closed for 2 and a half months, my two managers and I were fulfilling online orders for books and SO MANY jigsaw puzzles.
Q11) How the bookshop is surviving in a world of Amazon.com? This is a challenge that independent bookstores have faced from day one, because books are where Amazon started. From a generalized perspective, there are a lot of lessons that can be learned here about how you can compete with Amazon on your own terms. Also, do you have any advice for independent bookshop owners on surviving after COVID?
Susan : We’ve seen a lot of trends come and go since we have been in business for so long. We cannot compete with the discounts and shipping that online retailers offer, but what we can do is support our community and sour staff. We will continue to donate and support our educational and non-profit communities. We will provide good paying jobs and a supportive, collaborative work environment. Steve and Barbara often said “We can only be the best Browseabout we can be.” And that statement rings true in business and life in general. We have no aspirations to take over the world, and we cannot make ourselves into something we are not.
Q12) And, lastly what are your future plans for the bookstore?
After the year we’ve had, I am just trying to get through one day at a time, and focused on getting us back up to speed staffing and inventory-wise for our busy summer season. That’s about as far as my addled brain can look into the future! All I can say is we’ve been here for 46 years, and our goal as the new owners is to make sure that Browseabout is around for at least another 46 years!
Thank you so much for sharing all these incredible insights with me, Susan!
It’s a pleasure!
If any of my readers here , wish to know more about the bookstore. Do open the links mentioned below . They have a wonderful informative , articulated and well-curated website.
Website : https://www.browseaboutbooks.com/
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/browseabout/
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/browseaboutbooks/
Twitter : https://twitter.com/RB_Browseabout