What it Takes to Keep an Independent Bookstore in Bay Ridge Going

Bookmark Shoppe
Via Google

By David Farley

The BookMark Shoppe (8415 Third Avenue) is one of a dwindling number of small brick-and-mortar bookstores in southern Brooklyn. It’s immediately identifiable by the stylized old-time font on the awning and the banners announcing the appearances of one author or another (not to mention the yarn-bombed tree out front). A while back, I wrote a piece for Hey Ridge about an appearance at the store by reporter Julianna Barbassa, who wrote about Brazil and the upcoming Olympics. And while it was Barbassa’s book that drew me, it was the Shoppe itself and its owner, Christine Freglette, and her staff, that stuck with me. At the time, I talked with Christine in order to get background for the piece I was writing, but our conversation quickly went beyond that as Christine explained the work that goes into these events and running a successful community bookstore in the age of digital media. I told myself (and her) that I’d be back to hear more.

Can you tell us a little about how you started out here in Bay Ridge?
The BookMark Shoppe started in Dyker Heights in 2002, but within five years we had grown to the point that we needed more space. We had formed a great relationship with the ladies on Third Avenue who owned the bookstore that previously existed in the current location, called A Novel Idea. So I gave them a call to let them know we were looking for bigger space and get their advice, but also to tell them not to fear; we were not going to move anywhere near them! Their response was, “We are ready to sell!” It was perfect timing. Within a few months, the BookMark Shoppe took over Third, and the rest is history! 

What are the challenges of running a bookstore these days?
In the age of Amazon, we have to be more than a bookstore. Of course we know what our community is reading, and if we’ve missed something, we can order it in at no extra charge, usually the next day. So we’re competitive there. But we also offer classes to kids and adults, from poetry writing to knitting/crocheting classes. Our teachers are a wonderful addition to our staff, and they make our space come alive. The author events are usually the most well attended, and they’re a good way to promote ourselves in addition to the author. We try to make each book signing a pleasant experience, though that depends a lot on the author!

I’ve seen the banners! How do you get the authors you do?
It’s a lot of work! Each publishing house sends out three or four what are called “grids,” which basically announce the upcoming tours and are arranged by category (adult fiction, young adult, children, etc.). I then scan them for what seem interesting or relevant to our community and begin the request process. There’s a template I use for this, which explains who we are, who we’ve had in the past (demonstrating success is really important when dealing with the publishers), and other information. But when there’s someone we really want, I tailor the proposal, and that can be a lot of work. I give them a detailed history of what we’ve done, who we are, why we’re so great, and I include both attendance expectations and sales projections. The publishers are looking to move books, so that’s important for them. The proposals are key for getting good authors.

You’ve gotten some great people, so I guess sales and attendance have been good?
We usually meet our expectations in both attendance and sales. I am always careful and realistic about that because I am trying to build successful relationships with these publishers. The only time recently that we’ve failed to make our attendance projections was when Father Michael Collins came to the BookMark Shoppe, promoting his book on Pope Francis. This was in the weeks before the Pope was set to visit New York, and Father Collins is a Vatican insider, so we expected a huge turnout here in Bay Ridge. But the weather was terrible that day and kept people away! We had a good number of people anyway, but I had thought there would be more. We had no problem meeting our sales projections though! Weather is always the biggest factor when it comes to attendance. The celebrity authors are usually the best attended: Guy Fieri, Holly Madison, Mario Lopez. But we also had a great turnout when Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman were here promoting their book Enemies Within, about the NYPD surveillance program.

Mario Lopez
Via BookMark Shoppe (Facebook)

How do you advertise for the author events?
There are a number of ways we advertise. You’ve seen the banners out front! But we also promote author events and book signings online, through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In some cases, we have even advertised on buses, though this can be tricky. Bus advertisements are actually very effective and can bump our attendance up quite a bit. But the catch is, when we promote events in that way, people have certain expectations about the event. Like, we need to be sure that the author will actually stay and sign books afterward. If people come from Staten Island because they saw this on a bus, they’re going to want something for it.

Is that ever a problem? Are authors usually good about that when they get here?
Most of the time! We had one author (I won’t mention names) who was very difficult and actually made me cry. We had a line of people out the door, but she left after 30 minutes. I was stuck there with all these books and all these disgruntled people! But that was the exception. Ja Rule came a couple of summers ago when he was promoting his book Unruly. Again, the weather was terrible that day, and turnout was good but not what we had hoped for. He was scheduled to stay until 8pm, but he stuck around signing books and chatting with people until 9:30! He was a great guy. Very funny!

Do you have a favorite author or event?
Every event has brought me different happiness, whether I am a fan of the author or not. Each event has become a part of who am I and what this store has become for me over the years. I remember when Bernie Kerik was here not long ago. He walked into the store and looked at all the boards and banners that we have hanging on the walls and was impressed. He said, “Wow, you’ve met a great variety of people!” I really have! One day I will retire and all the boards signed throughout the years will show me where I’ve been in my career.

Any upcoming events you’d like Bay Ridge to know about?
Yes! On Wednesday Thursday, February 4, the authors of Crooked Brooklyn: Taking Down Corrupt Judges, Dirty Politicians, Killers, and Body Snatchers will be here for a Q&A and to sign books! Both authors, Michael Vecchione and Jerry Schmetterer, will be here. That should be a great event! And then on February 14, author Adam Lewis Schroeder will be reading from his novel, All Day Breakfast. And feel free to check our website for scheduled reading groups, classes, and other activities. So come by, and don’t forget—shop local!

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BookMark Shoppe Interior
Photo for Hey Ridge
Signed promo for Ja Rule
Photo for Hey Ridge
BookMark Shoppe Tree
Yarn-bombed tree outside the BookMark Shoppe. Photo for Hey Ridge