Talk to any fiction writer, and most will tell you the hardest part of any short story or novel is the first sentence. Owners of small businesses often say something similar: Get through those first five years, and the business could well be on profitable ground for many years to come.
The independent and family-owned Tachair Bookshoppe, which celebrates its first anniversary this month, has, metaphorically speaking, written its first sentence and is now one year closer to reaching that make-or-break five year hurdle.
Despite being something of an oddity on the commercial storefront landscape – keep in mind, Hudson County has seen at least three traditional book stores close in recent years – Jersey City residents Aleta Valleau and her mother Carol Valleau are determined to succeed where others have thrown in the towel. Proclaiming that Jersey City needs a bookstore, the women last summer opened Tachair Bookshoppe at 260 Newark Ave. downtown. Now a full year into their business venture, the pair is more convinced than ever that a traditional, offline bookstore can be profitable in Jersey City.
The store, which specializes in selling like-new used book, has begun to attract a customer base of regular and repeat shoppers.
“We didn’t just open this. We did two years of market research,” said Carol Valleau, noting that she and Aleta initially sold used books at various local farmers markets before deciding to open the brick and mortar location on Newark Avenue. “We talked to as many people as we could and we kept saying, ‘Jersey City needs a book store.’ And everybody agreed. It’s amazing. We have people cheering us on from as far away as France.”
Last week, in addition to the books on the shelves, the Valleaus had several boxes of donated books that had come from residents who hoped to find new homes for cherished literature.
“Our customers really love books and when they can no longer keep them, they really want to find good homes for them, like they would for a pet,” said Carol. “It’s like we’ve become an ‘adopt a book’ service for people who don’t just want to see their favorite books put out on the streets.”
Having found a niche they believe they can exploit, the Valleaus are also re-introducing their customers to the lost art of community building.
The store offers a seating area where customers can enjoy coffee and snacks sold at Tachair. And the store has regular appearances by authors and musicians. In the past year, the store has hosted readings by writer John Hartmann (“Jacket”), writer and musician Debra Devi (“The Language of the Blues from Alcorub to Zuzu”, Jon D’Amore (“The Boss Always Sits in the Back”), and Dan North (“The Slow Walker”), among others.
The Valleaus said the author readings have already reconnected Tachair customers to a type of dialog and exchange often missing when bookstores are unavailable to them.
“After the authors read, there’s usually a Q&A, and you should see they way the audience reacts,” said Carol. “Their eyes just light up!”
The pair has also come up with ways to make book buying fun. Aleta recently inserted 20 gift certificates into 20 random books scattered throughout the store. Customers who find the certificates can use them towards their book purchase. And if this sounds like a needle in a haystack proposition for the customers, as of last week three of the certificates had already been found and used, and two certificates were actually found in one day.
Such interactions, the women said, are the very essence of Tachair – both the bookstore and the word itself.
“Tachair is the Gaelic verb ‘to meet,’ ” Aleta said. “So the author readings and our other programs are very important to our mission and goal here.”
In addition to the author readings, the store features two reading clubs for children – one in the infant to toddler age range, and another for youngsters ages 7 to 14 – and Spanish, algebra, and American Sign Language classes as well. Portuguese might be added to the mix soon.
The store is currently challenging itself and its customers to sell 1,000 books in one week, a challenge that ends this week.
To celebrate their first year, the Valleaus were at press time last week scheduled to hold a day-long party on Saturday, July 13 at the store. The celebration was scheduled to feature an encore live performance by Devi at 2 p.m., a second live performance by musician David Case later in the afternoon, and the art exhibition “Flora, Fauna, and Faces.”
An opening reception for the art exhibit, featuring the work of Elaine James, Diane Lombardi-Fleming, and Erin Jensen, was scheduled for that evening at 7 p.m.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.