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The Little Bookstore That Could: Bookmamas in Irvington Survives and Prospers in an Age Where “It can’t be done.”

little engineBookmamas, the little Bookstore in the Historic Irvington section of Indianapolis, has been compared to the classic story of The Little Engine That Could. In that story, a train loaded with toys needs an engine to pull it over the mountain to waiting children.  The train asks several big engines who refuse to pull the train because they think they can’t traverse the mountain pulling the train of toys.  Finally, the smallest engine in the rail yard agrees to try.  It stalls several times as it tries to travel up and over the mountain.  Each time the little engine stalls, it repeats, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” makes it over that rough spot and continues on until it delivers the toys to the expectant children.

Ten years ago bookstores around the nation were closing.  Amazon and online sales were eroding the sales of brick and mortars.  E books were threatening to replace traditional books.  Other forms of entertainment such as video games and television supplanted reading for many people.  The great recession of 2008 significantly slowed the economy.  And I bought a used online bookstore and opened Bookmamas.

What was I thinking?  That’s what my brother, a financial adviser, wanted to know. I was thinking about how our mother didn’t buy me books while I was growing up because I didn’t need encouragement to read.  Now her legacy to me was a store full of books.  I was thinking how great it would be to put the right book into the hands of the eager reader.  I was thinking about how I would love to encourage more children to love books and reading.  I was thinking about all the interesting book lovers I would meet.  I was thinking of book clubs and writers’ groups and author talks. I was thinking of learning more about books, authors, ideas and people.

My cousin Carolyn and I tried everything we could think of.  We sold books online, I exhibited in markets throughout town, I set up small satellite stores, and we sponsored author signings, group meetings, musical performances and lectures.  We expanded into new books specializing in books about Indiana or by Hoosiers.  Who knew Indiana was the subject of so many wondrous books and home of so many great authors? We formed partnerships with other Indianapolis organizations such as the library, Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, Ray Bradbury Institute and Hoosier History Live.  Bookmamas finally merged with a record store —bringing in an entirely new group of patrons.

Every time we had trouble, we repeated the mantra, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” and amazingly we succeeded.  Bookmamas is still here and has brought me copious amounts of joy and satisfaction.

By guest blogger Kathleen Angelone, owner of the store

Next Week: Kathleen Angelone reviews a new Civil War book from Hawthorne!