Many of us bibliophiles have had a dream to open up our own cozy bookstore. For Sarai, she made her dream a reality. Spellbound is an independent bookstore located in the historic Downtown Sanford, Florida area. I have the pleasure of living close enough to frequent Spellbound and was able to connect with Sarai through one of my trips to her bookstore. I had the opportunity to discuss with Sarai the ins and outs of starting Spellbound.
Below is our conversation.
What inspired your love for reading and books?
I was immediately drawn to books when I first learned how to read. I remember my first chapter book was Island of the Blue Dolphins and my 4th-grade teacher introduced me to the school library. I was so impressed with the selection and couldn’t believe it when the teacher explained that I could take books home for free as long as I brought them back. I’ve been a reader ever since.
Where did the idea for Spellbound come from?
I’ve always loved bookstores, and during my travels in the States and Europe, I’ve always made it a point to visit the local bookstores and see their selection. I live in Downtown Sanford FL, and in the 9 years I’ve lived here we’ve never had an independent bookstore with newly published books. We do have a great used bookstore, but I’ve always wished for an indie bookstore that had events or meet-ups where I could meet people. I thought to myself that it’d be great to open one myself, and in October 2021 I decided to go for it and make my dream a reality.
How did you start, and where did you begin when opening your bookstore business?
The location was the most important thing. Commercial space is hard to come by in Downtown Sanford, especially if you want a storefront in the main downtown area. I searched for a year and couldn’t find what I was looking for. I was ready to give up when I came across the location we’re in now, which is adjacent to a bar called the Sanford Ave Tavern. We’re located inside a historic home converted into two commercial spaces a few blocks away from the center of town. We have three separate rooms and I thought, “This could work.” I signed the lease, drafted a business plan, got all of the licenses and insurance that I needed, opened a business checking account, and prepared to purchase the initial inventory. It took about two months of preparation and setup before we were able to open on November 5, 2022.
How do you stay ahead of the market trends to determine which books to bring into your store?
I did some research on books that were set to release in the next few months and made a list. I made a second list of backlist books categorized by genre that were either: 1) award winners, 2) best sellers or got a lot of buzz, 4) could be deemed as ‘classics’, and 5) received good reviews. This was a good starting point. Over time I’ve learned what books my customers are drawn to and I’ve adjusted how I purchase books.
How do you stay connected to the community?
We use social media quite a bit and have gotten a great response. We’re still new, so we’re slowly creating partnerships and working with other local businesses to stay more connected.
What are the challenges of being a bookstore owner?
My biggest challenge has been learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry, how distribution works, fostering relationships, and how to set up successful events. We’ve learned a lot through trial and error and continue to improve daily.
What have been some unforeseen obstacles and how did you overcome these obstacles?
There are not a lot of options for ordering through distributors. Because of this, I have to rely on them and am at their mercy. It’s a bit challenging to try to order books and they’re not available or are back-ordered, and you can’t do much other than wait. Over time I’ve learned to be patient and more efficient when I order. I have to be one step ahead and hope for the best.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be patient with yourself. It will take time to get to a place where you feel like you’re on the right path. Having a good support system is also crucial–you need people around you that you can trust and depend on because running a business on your own is difficult and can drain you quickly.
What is the best part about being a bookstore owner?
Bookstores are my happy place, so probably the best part about owning my own bookstore is that I love to be there! I love picking out books, talking about books with customers, setting up displays, and coming up with ideas on how to bring book lovers together. It feels so rewarding to have someone walk in and say, “Wow, this place is so cozy/awesome/lovely!”, “I’ve been following you on Instagram and finally made it here!” or even, “We needed something like this!” From the minute they walk in, it’s an immediate connection. I can’t compare it to anything else–it’s the best feeling there is.