Bookspot of the Week: Skylark Bookshop

For this week’s bookspot, we had the pleasure of talking to Alex George, the owner of Skylark Bookshop in Columbia, MO!

Bookspot / Libraries
Skylark books featured

For this week’s bookspot, we had the pleasure of talking to Alex George, the owner of Skylark Bookshop in Columbia, MO. Complete with Theo the bookshop dog, a welcoming atmosphere, and even a personalized book subscription service, this is one bookshop you won’t want to miss!

 

 

How did your bookstore transition from concept to reality?

I am also the founder and director of The Unbound Bookfestival, which takes place in Columbia every April. The response from the community to the festival was so overwhelmingly positive that I knew there was a real hunger for all things book-related. And, oddly for a town with three universities in it, there wasn’t an independent bookshop selling new books. So there was, as the saying goes, a gap in the market. I had met my business partner, Carrie Koepke, some years previously and knew that she used to work in a bookstore. We had coffee, talked about it, and decided to give it a try. I already knew what space I wanted. When we learned it was about to become available – well, it felt like it was meant to be. We signed the lease in May and (somehow) opened in the middle of August. It was a Herculean effort, but totally worth it. It feels like we haven’t stopped moving since!

 

skylark bookshop

via Skylark Bookshop

 

What do you feel is unique to your bookstore?

First of all, it’s just a beautiful place to be. We love walking in every day. We’re also very proud of our inventory. All of our staff are brilliant, smart readers, but we all read differently, so the inventory goes wide but also deep. I’m also a novelist – my last book, The Paris Hours, was published last month by Flatiron. I have lots of friends who are writers and consequently we’re able to put on a lot of great author events. Thanks to that, and the Unbound Book Festival, we always have lots of signed copies in store.

 

 

If you had infinite space, what might you add to the store?

A dedicated events space, for sure. Every time we do events we have to carry scores of folding chairs from the mezzanine floor down to the stage area at the front of the shop. It makes for a good workout, but it can get a bit boring! And there are certain areas of the shop that we wish we could expand further – we have so many wonderful and beautiful children’s books, for example, but they’re all crammed together on the shelves and we can’t display them as well as we would like. We have a table upstairs where people are welcome to sit and read and study, and I’d love to expand that area, as well. So many plans!

 

via skylark bookshop

 

How do you feel your bookstore fits into your local community?

We believe, unequivocally, that bookshops are a force for good in the world, and are deeply invested in our community. We want people to think of the shop as a local resource, a place where people can gather, and we host a variety of events (fundraisers, talks, etc.) that are not book-related. We hold regular events for local writers to promote their work, and offer space for them to write. We have regular storytimes for young children and have a dedicated following for those. We also have drag queen story time once a month, which is perhaps our most popular event. During the pandemic we home-delivered books across the city and used the tips we received to buy books for kids that were then given away in partnership with a local restaurant that was providing free lunches. We’re constantly finding new ways to interact with and give back to our community, who have supported us so strongly since we opened. 

 

What does your store offer that a chain or online retailer can’t?

Every title on our shelves has been specifically chosen by us, because we love it. You’ll find things here that you won’t find in a large chain, and would never come across online. For us, one of the key words when it comes to independent bookstores is discovery. Because there is no centralized buying structure, our inventory is unique to us. People come to Skylark to find things they know they won’t find elsewhere. And, of course, our staff is super-smart and very well-read and will have brilliant recommendations for just about anything or anyone. And we love to talk about books! Try having a discussion about why you love this novel or that novel with an algorithm.

 

bookspot of the week

via Skylark Bookshop

 

Do you hand-pick your staff to create a specific environment?

Of course! In addition to being passionate about books, everyone is friendly, outgoing, and ready to help. Everyone who walks in the store is always greeted – often by name, as we know so many of our customers. We also have quite different reading interests between us, so collectively have a wide breadth of knowledge. If one person may not know about a particular subject, there is someone else who does!

 

 

How else do you create a welcoming environment?

The store is long and quite narrow, with high ceilings. We worked hard to make it feel as open as we could, painting it white and having light-colored furniture made. We wanted people to be able to see to the very back of the shop when they walked in the door – basically, to see as many books as possible – and so we designed the layout to make that happen so that sightlines were not obscured. And of course we have our secret weapon – Theo, the bookshop dog. If he’s not asleep he will trot up to every new customer and give them a welcoming sniff. He’s the gentlest soul.

 

bookspot of the week: skylark bookshop

via Skylark Bookshop

 

What about your store do you think appeals to your neighborhood?

Columbia is a college town, and it understands the value of local, independently-owned businesses that are unique and reflect the interests and values of the community. We have been overwhelmed with the support that we have received from the community since we opened our doors. It’s an honor and a privilege to be here.

 

Do you have any staff picks or releases we should watch out for?

We have scores of shelf-talkers dotted throughout the shop. (Some are easier to read than others.) We are all passionate about particular books and will wax lyrical all day about them. (For example, don’t get Erin started about The Understory by Richard Powers.) There are really too many wonderful titles to choose from, but here’s one that we have been handselling like crazy ever since it was published: The Book of Delights by Ross Gay is a series of wonderful micro-essays about small things that give him joy. It gives us joy to have introduced it to so many people. Happiness in your hand.

 

skylark books

via Skylark Bookshop

 

Do you tailor your inventory according to your community?

Yes, absolutely we do. There are certain types of books that just don’t sell in our store, and others that are hugely popular. We feel like we know our customers’ tastes pretty well – to the point where when we’re in a meeting with a sales rep, we will see a title and know which particular customer would be interested in reading it. We’re able to operate at that level of detail, which is fun.

 

Is there anything else that you’d like our audience to know?

We offer book spas! It’s the ultimate gift for book lovers – dedicated time with our staff (plus coffee and a doughnut!) to discuss your tastes and then we curate a suggested reading list for you. You have $100 to spend, so it’s completely guilt-free shopping. People love them. Many folks have come back more than once. We also offer a personalized subscription service – we choose books for you (based on your preferences) and mail them, gift-wrapped, to your home every month. It’s awesome.

 

 

Be sure to follow @skylarkbookshop on Instagram for more bookish content. Do you know of a book shop worthy of a spotlight on our site? Contact us through any of our socials and you may just find it here next week!

Featured image via skylark bookshop