A few weeks ago I took the hubster to one of my favorite local coffee shops — Church Street Coffee and Books — and while we were there I had to make a confession.“I have a total girl crush on the owner of this shop,” I leaned over and whispered to him after we had settled at a table nestled in the corner of the shop’s newly opened Reading Room.By the time you’ve finished this post you will have fallen for for Carrie Rollwagen too.In January, 2011, Cal Morris called Carrie with the idea to open an independent coffee shop and bookstore in a space where a Starbucks had stood for the past 10 years. After months of planning, they did just that.
But Carrie is also a woman who loves words. She’s a former copyeditor for The Birmingham Post-Herald, copywriter at Southern Progress and Willow House, and a prolific blogger. So another huge part of Church Street Coffee & Books is its blog, which features book reviews and other musings on storytelling and literature.
What do you hope your shop will offer Birmingham? What void do you believe it’s filling?
“Filling a void” is an appropriate phrase, because that’s exactly what Church Street Coffee & Books did — our shop was a Starbucks for ten years, and the neighborhood was very upset when they decided to vacate. Cal, my business partner, was manager of the Starbucks, so he knew there was a need and a market for a coffee shop in our spot. He also knew that many Mountain Brook residents were still upset over the loss of their bookstore –Jonathan Benton, Bookseller — a few years ago. It was Cal’s idea to open a new shop in the space. He called on me to help because I’d managed Jonathan Benton and worked as a barista. Also, we’ve been friends for years, we work together really well, and we share a desire to create a store that serves the community instead of ourselves.
One of the things I love about your blog is that you always have such high-quality content. I’m impressed you find the time to do this considering you are a small business owner and you read all the time. Any time management tips for those of us trying to balance jobs with blogging and reading?
I think the trick to writing a solid blog is to practice, and to chose a subject that you’re passionate about. I do have a background in journalism, which was really helpful in teaching me to meet deadlines. And I worked for several years as a copywriter — writing ad copy is great practice, because it teaches you to communicate effectively and quickly to a fairly hostile audience. I really try to have daily content on my blog, but when I can’t come up with something, I’d rather skip a day than use a filler post. Of course, for PostScript, our store blog about books, I’m not the only writer — my team of writers helps me quite a bit.
As far as finding time for reading, everyone asks how Cal and I have time to read, and the fact is, we don’t have time to read. You have to make time to read. For both of us, that’s usually when we have five or ten minutes here and there — you really get through a book much more quickly than you’d think, just by reading a bit at a time. I need the escape into the world of story just as much as I need writing; so not reading isn’t really that much of an option for me.
Tell us a little bit about what you’re reading right now?
I read a lot of new fiction, especially since we opened the shop. I just finished Where’d You Go Bernadette, which is smart, funny, and a quick read — I loved it. The Sisters Brothers is one of my favorite books right now. It’s a dark comedy, and it reminded me a lot of Catch 22. I also just re-read and enjoyed Stephen King’s On Writing. I’d like to read something seasonally spooky, like maybe some Edgar Allan Poe or The Last Werewolf. And I just started Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, which raises some interesting questions about e-books versus paper books.
You once mentioned on your blog that Amazon is a “story-destroying behemoth” which I found interesting. While I can certainly see how Amazon hurts independent bookstores, some would say that Amazon is encouraging storytelling because it offers people more opportunities to get published. Can you talk a bit about why you believe Amazon can be harmful to storytelling?
I’m glad you asked about Amazon. I’m pretty vehement about Amazon, and a lot of people think that’s only because it’s a competitor, but that’s not true. Starbucks is a competitor, but I don’t have any problem with them as a company. But Amazon has made a business strategy of trying to squeeze profits out of the book industry without contributing to it creatively. They sell books for less than they’re worth, even lose money on them, in order to undercut competitors and put us and publishers out of business. They’re trying to get a monopoly on book selling and on publishing, and I think having one entity — whether it’s Amazon, government, or any physical bookstore — in charge of the publishing and distribution of stories and ideas is terrifying. Also, they’ve captured the market on digital publishing and made a device that will only display books purchased from them — it’s as if, when Apple made the iPod, they’d designed it so it would only play songs bought from Apple, and you could never buy an album from a local shop, or from a live show, or from the artists themselves. That kind of control isn’t good for competition, for artists, or for consumers.
A lot of people see Amazon’s self-publishing arm as separate, or as a positive entity, because it gives writers a chance to self-publish. But it’s really hard for me to understand why any writer would put their work into the hands of a company that has a business strategy so opposed to artistic expression and freedom of readership. I’m not against Amazon because I’m a bookseller — I’m against Amazon because I’m a writer and a reader, and I became a bookseller again so I’d be in a better position to try to fight what they’re doing. I don’t know if I’m making a difference or not, but I’m trying.
Can you speak a bit on the importance of supporting small businesses?
There are lots of reasons to support small businesses, but I think the one that shocks most people is the impact local businesses have on the economy. For every $10 you spend at an independent shop, anywhere from $4 to $7 goes back into your local economy. Spend the same amount at a big box store, and that number is just $1 to $4. That money creates jobs, fixes schools, pays off debt. We’re so concerned about the economy, but we’re willing to sell ourselves short by buying from corporations, which I just don’t get. Shopping small probably won’t result in discounts, but your spending will mean something. Instead of buying more for less money, just buy less in the first place. The economy will benefit, and, if my experience with Shop Small is any indication, your life will be fuller and richer (both literally and figuratively) as well.
*Crossposted at The Writeous Babe Project.