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It feels like the media/press recycle the “same old” influential [non-white cis men] creatives. So, instead of just complaining about this (which I’m super good at!), I decided to begin highlighting some of my favorite creative business babes!
In this post, I interviewed my friend Libby Monaghan, who is the new owner (along with her partner, Ryan!) of a Kansas-based bookstore, Twice Told Tales.
BH: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, Libby! I’m curious, what’s your background?
LM: I graduated with an English degree in 2009 and basically did a lot of odd jobs that had nothing to do with that until 2016, when I started working at Twice Told Tales part-time. This cute little used bookstore had opened up in my town, and I was in love with it!
So, naturally, I befriended the owner, Jessica, who put her whole heart and soul into starting this little shop. I had always wanted to own a bookstore but I never really saw myself as a business person. I figured the next best thing would be to just work here part-time. I told Jessica that I was open to it and when she was ready to hire on an employee, she called me!
BH: OMG YES, I love this. I think it’s so awesome when folks put themselves forward. People want to hire folks who WANT to work for them, so that was a super smart move. You worked as a virtual assistant during this time, correct?
LM: I worked about 6 hours a week at TTT while I worked on building up my writing/ virtual assistant career–this was when I learned that I actually do have some business person instincts in me and I actually really loved working for myself. I’ve had a lot of really bad bosses, and I refused to go back to that life. So I had to make it work for me.
I loved working here part time, and I often said that the only way that I’d go back to working full-time out in the “real world” (basically outside of my house), would be if Jessica hired me to work here full time. (More on this further down.)
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This blurry #ootd is brought to you in part by the first time I’ve busted out my boots this season and in part by the fact that @iheardalion released their new album. It’s everywhere—Spotify, iTunes, other places… Every song is my favorite song. It’s full of really delicious, driven, autumn rock vibes and I hope you’re as into it as I am. And any time you’re in awe over the masterful drum parts, know that’s my partner Ryan who is probably so embarrassed at the amount of bragging on him that I have done on all my social media accounts today. (I’m so glad to know you.)
BH: What kind of books do you carry at Twice Told Tales?
LM: We are a used bookstore in McPherson, Kansas. We sell used books (almost everything except for textbooks), greeting cards, journals, planners, and calendars right now.
The vast majority of our books come from people in our community. I love that about us–we run on community, and that isn’t lost on me at all. People come in with the books they’ve finished and I put them on our shelves and then someone else takes them home. I LOVE IT!!
As time goes on, I do have a lot of ideas for ways I’d like to make our space even more community driven! As a first baby step, we brought in this line of stickers from some designers from Wichita (about an hour away from here) all about Kansas pride. People are loving them!
People don’t expect great things from Kansas but those of us who love it, really love it, and we are making it into an incredible place. And we love to shout it from the rooftops. I have a goal to bring in greeting cards, art, stationary, etc from other artists who live in Kansas or the Great Plains area in general.
BH: I love that! Bookstores are de facto community centers, and I’m excited to see the kind of art you’ll carry. What does a “day in the life” of a bookstore owner look like? Is it like You’ve Got Mail? (Please tell me it is, lol):
LM: The store opens at 10:00 am on weekdays. I live about 6 minutes away, but I leave the house at around 9:00 most days. I have to run to the bank to make any deposits we might have, go to the post office to drop off anything that might’ve sold online the day before. Then I head to a few different places depending on which bills are due right away. Usually I get to the shop right at opening time.
I turn on the lights, turn on the music (right now I’m on a big Josephine Baker kick so I play her music in the shop. It’s totally unexpected and people seem to really like it.), and pull the cart of our $1 books out in front of the store. THEN I brew my coffee.
After that, I write up a to-do list for the day which generally consists of boring things like getting caught up in QuickBooks but also includes fun stuff like going through the books that people bring in. Right now, I’m planning our holiday decorations. I’m excited about our front window display this year. And in between helping everyone who comes through the front door, I usually cross most things off the to-do list.
Honestly, I thought that I’d have tons of downtime staying at the store all day long. How much could there be to do, right?? But, no. I haven’t physically read a single book since I took this on (I only have time for audiobooks right now). The irony is thick.
BH: Turn a hobby into a job and “work kind of all of the time” right? Off the cuff, what are a few of your favorite books?
LM: Good question!
- Last year I fell in love with Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
- This summer I finished Landwhale by Jes Baker and related to it on a visceral level.
- The Mothers by Britt Bennett was so great.
But hands down the absolute best book I read this year was Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It’s the kind of thing that I’ve been thinking about regularly since I finished it three months ago. The way that Gyasi was able to tell that epic, semi-convoluted family tale spanning hundreds of years in a way that kept me on the edge of my seat and quite aware of certain privileges I had never considered before was utterly masterful.
BH: Are there events at Twice Told Tales? What kind? (Author signings, an upcoming Halloween party, etc)
LM: Not as many as I’d like… yet! Like I said, I have plans. I want our shop to be a place that people think of when they need a space to hold a medium-sized community event. I have an idea of starting a Letter Writing Club next year where people will get together after hours to write letters–to their elected representatives, to first responders in our community, to their grandmas–whatever. I just want to bring back letter writing.
Right now, though, I have offered up the front section of our store to some local artists during the holiday season. Every Saturday through November and December, we’ll have a different artist or at-home business owner available to get some face-time/ sales with the public. I’m excited about that.
Next month a local college is having the release party for their online literary magazine here and I’m excited about that (I was the editor in chief of the literary magazine at my college).
BH: Okay, let’s talk business and marketing! How do you market Twice Told Tales? How do people usually hear about it?
LM: Honestly, like 75% online right now. Since social media was kind of my thing before taking on the store, it comes very naturally to me now. I get people who pop in the store and tell me that they love to follow me on Instagram or Facebook, and I love that! Since there was a For Sale sign in the front window for a while, a LOT of people think that we’ve closed. Almost every day someone comes in and says, “I thought this place had closed!” So right now my main priority is just letting people know that we’re still here and we’re going to be here for a long, long time.
Belonging to the McPherson Main Street Association and the Chamber of Commerce helps a lot, too. McPherson loves to get the word out about all the cool things that are going on in our town and we get in on some holiday advertising opportunities that they’re spearheading as well. I feel really lucky to live in and own a business in a town that is so excited about what we’re doing.
BH: YESSS! I feel like a lot of business owners forget how helpful their Chamber of Commerce can be. They’re literally an entity dedicated to the businesses in your city. So, what inspired you to acquire the store?
LM: Well, Jessica’s life was changing in a lot of ways and her husband’s job was taking them out of state, basically. Someone needed to take it over! The store went up for sale and was on the market for a little while. I was feeling nervous because, like I mentioned before, I’m very picky about who I’ll work for and ideally I’ll only work for myself. Even still, though, thought of buying the store, truly, never crossed my mind. I don’t know why–I think it just seemed like such an impossible pipe dream that I didn’t let my brain go there.
After a few months of being on the market, to my immense surprise, it wasn’t budging (I suspect that people assumed it wasn’t a viable business. People are often shocked to learn that people buy books, still). It was nearing time for Jessica to make a decision about what to do with the store. I think we’d resigned ourselves to the thought that she was going to have to close up. The thought of that broke my heart because our community would definitely be worse off without this shop. I love our town. I love Kansas. I love McPherson. I love our Main Street and I LOVE the sense of community that exists here. The thought of this little spot on Main Street going dark was too much to bear.
“I love our town. I love Kansas. I love McPherson. I love our Main Street and I LOVE the sense of community that exists here. The thought of this little spot on Main Street going dark was too much to bear.”
So about two weeks before her moving date, Jessica approached me with the idea of taking it on, myself. We explored a couple of different options and we got creative but about a week or so later, my partner, Ryan, and I were meeting with Jessica in a lawyer’s office making it paperwork-official! As of September 1, 2018 we were the new owners!
BH: OMG I love that! Do you work at the bookstore full-time? If not, what other things do you do?
LM: Yes! I went from working here 6 hours a week and working from home about 50 hours a week to a complete flip-flop. Now, I work at the store about 50 hours a week and I still have one part time virtual assistant job that I’m able to devote about 6 hours to.
Currently, Ryan and I are the only people who work in the store. He has a full-time job, but loves to be here on the weekends with me so it’s mostly just me here holding down the fort myself.
It was important for me to be the only one working at the store for the first several months of owning it because I wanted to dive in deep into all the different aspects of business ownership. I hope that in 2019 I’ll be able to hire on some part time help, though. We’ll see!
BH: I’m sure folks reading this who want to work for you will let you know (after reading about your story with Jessica!). I’m curious, what kind of business research did you do before acquiring the store? (Books, blogs, etc)
LM: Honestly? Not a lot. Which, for the record, I would not ordinarily recommend. But I’d been working here for over two years–I knew it pretty well. I trusted Jessica, it was important to her to be completely honest with me. We communicated very openly about the ins and outs, the bummer parts and the fun parts.
We did consult some other wise-counsel–good friends who own businesses on Main Street in our same town. They drilled us with questions that were hard to answer–we did the same to them and in the end we all kind of agreed that taking it on was a good choice. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we decided to jump in. The first month I woke up thinking “what have I done” about every other night. At this point, though, I can honestly say it only happens about once every few weeks. That feels like a good sign to me.
BH: How can people *not* in Kansas support your business?
LM: I love this question! I mean, for the most part we are a brick and mortar store that you really need to experience in person. So first off, I would just highly recommend coming to spend a weekend in McPherson Kansas. It’s worth the drive! I promise!! I’ll point you in the direction of the best coffee, hoagies, pie, and scenic drives.
But if you insist on not driving to the middle of Kansas right away, I think I do a pretty good job of showing off our shop on Instagram (@twicetoldtalesks). You’re totally welcome to message us to see if we have a book you’re looking for or if you see a book on our Instagram or Facebook page and want it, just give us a call and I’ll happily ship it to you.
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Let me introduce you to a special book. The Movement is a book that was prepared with the assistance of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. It features hundreds of black and white photos chronicling the civil rights movement. The text was all written by American Playwright, Lorraine Hansberry. It was published in 1964. This particular copy is a first printing. Considering that this is a 1964 paperback, it’s in great condition with very minor smudges and one scribble on the inside cover. If you’re in the store and would like to have a look, just ask! Because of its very good condition, and the fact that we’d like to keep it that way, we are holding this book behind the counter. If you’re interested in purchasing, pop in or send us a message!
BH: How do you feel about ebooks?
LM: Personally, meh. I don’t care for them. They’re just not my thing. If I want to be reading a book it’s because I want to be disconnected from a device. Plus, the first time I tried to read on one, it ran out of battery and that’s the story of how I’ve never finished Mindy Kaling’s last book.
But if other people like them it’s fine. I don’t feel like they’re competition or anything. Some people are ebook readers and some people are book book readers and I happen to have most of what will appeal to the book bookers.
BH: What advice would you give other people looking to acquire or open a bookstore?
LM: Because of the way that Twice Told Tales kind of just fell into my lap, I feel like I’m not a great person to speak on this. But I can speak on the power of just letting yourself imagine the unimaginable a little bit. I feel like Me from five years ago would’ve just been like, “Ha! There’s no way I’m taking on a brick and mortar business!” And wouldn’t have even allowed myself to entertain the thought. But I’d learned a lot in the past few years about the power of saying “yes” to exciting things so I tried to give myself a little slack. And when I did, that’s when I realized what I really wanted. I really wanted this store to be mine.
It’s also important to know your resources and use them. Keep people close at hand who know more than you do and listen to them. If there’s something you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to bring in an expert. Every time my accountant leaves, I send Ryan a text that says something about how much I love her. Accounting is not my favorite and that alone made me the most nervous. But I have an expert and she helps with the things I need help with.
And also–do what you want to do when the opportunity presents itself. Sometimes you have to wait a while. Sometimes you have to strike while the iron is hot! The more you get to know yourself and trust yourself, the more you’ll know what your next move should be.
Thanks for the interview, Libby!
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