Bookstores receiving grants last week in the first round of awards from author James Patterson are putting the funds to use in ways that both emphasize their role in their communities and underscore Patterson’s goal of promoting literacy. More than $267,000 of the $1 million that Patterson has pledged to give to indie bookstores was awarded in grants ranging from $2,000 to $15,000 to 55 bookstores and to the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association to support California Bookstore Day.
“What’s great about the program is that it highlights all the possible ways funds like this can be used in bookstores,” said Holly Weinkauf, owner of The Red Balloon Bookshop, in St. Paul, Minnesota, who noted that many stores are on a tight budget and have a long list of things they’d like to do.
Upon hearing the news that Red Balloon was among the recipients, “we were very excited and very honored,” said Weinkauf. “We’ve decided that we can make the most difference by using the money to help provide books to kids who wouldn’t be able to buy them otherwise.” Among the plans under consideration is working with schools that regularly host author visits to help identify kids who can’t afford to buy books. In addition, Weinkauf is looking into using the funds to bring authors to schools that are typically not able to host author visits.
“I think it’s a great message that James Patterson is putting out there,” said Weinkauf. “That we, as independent bookstores, are adding to the social good of our communities. I hope it has a lasting effect, and helps people realize that independent bookstores need community support if they’re going to continue being in the community.”
Similarly, Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is using the funds to support children’s author visits to local schools. In underwriting the cost of books for children who are unable to buy them, the store hopes to foster an excitement about reading that a classroom can not always replicate.
“One of our missions has always been to play a role in promoting children’s literacy in Cambridge and Somerville,” said co-owner Dina Mardell. “We are now in a very good position to do just that. We are very grateful to Mr. Patterson.”
The owners of Mysterious Galaxy, which has locations in Redondo Beach and San Diego, California, are using the funds to show their appreciation for their staff.
“The impact of this shoestring organization is that several of San Diego’s key employees have not received a raise in more than five years,” co-owners Terry Gilman, Maryelizabeth Hart, and Jeffrey J. Mariotte said in a statement. “Our current staff is truly in this business and working for our store for the love of literacy, not for the financial compensation they receive. We cannot think of a staff more deserving of a monetary thank you than this one.”
The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts, will be using its grant from James Patterson to work with the local chapter of the nonprofit Girls Inc. to donate books to girls in the community who wouldn’t normally have access to them.
For Odyssey, writing the grant proposal had a value of its own. Odyssey decided to use the voice of authors to demonstrate the store’s importance to the community, said Children’s Department director Hannah Moushabeck. To that end, Odyssey reached out to local authors to ask for a statement about what the bookstore meant to them. “We got this huge outpouring of support,” said Moushabeck, who included the authors’ comments in the proposal for the grant.
“It was a really wonderful experience. Even if we didn’t get the grant, we’d still have this lovely confirmation of author appreciation,” she said.
Booksellers and readers who want to propose a bookstore to receive an award from the next round of grants can do so via Patterson’s website. More than $700,000 is yet to be awarded. Eligible stores must be deemed “viable” and have a children’s section. James Patterson himself is making the decision as to which stores should receive funding.