Lavender Inkwell Fills Niche in Syracuse Neighborhood

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In October, central New York State became home to a new bookstore with a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (GLBT) focus, when The Lavender Inkwell Bookshoppe opened in Syracuse. Co-owners Scott Henni and John Besaw started the barely 700-square-foot store because they felt a need for one, especially in the city's Near Northeast historic district.

The store is located in an 1896 Victorian house in the residential Hawley-Green community, which is home to a growing artistic community and a GLBT-friendly neighborhood. Hawley-Green is one-half mile from downtown Syracuse and one-and-one-half miles from the Syracuse University campus. Henni and Besaw live less than two blocks from the store.

The space, vacant for the past three years, was formerly the home of My Sisters' Words, a defunct feminist bookstore. "This was actually our third choice for a location," Henni said. "We were starting [our store] from scratch and didn't want to be confused with My Sisters' Words. We also wanted a little more space to fit in a cafe."

Finding a suitable location was the most difficult aspect of opening the business, according to Henni. "We found some extremely difficult landlords -- one would only give us a range of rent -- somewhere from $600 to $1,000 per month," he explained. "We couldn't take that to the bank."

Henni had previous retail experience, but he and Besaw also received valuable assistance in creating their business plan from the Small Business Administration's SCORE program. They also credited the American Booksellers Association's education programs, particularly "The 2% Solution," which they attended at a New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) trade show.

Regional meetings and NAIBA trunk shows also provided opportunities for Henni and Besaw to learn from other booksellers. Henni singled out Ann Burlingham, owner of the one-year-old Burlingham Books in Perry, New York, as being especially helpful.

Lavender Inkwell's cozy space is filled with books on subjects ranging from GLBT history and advocacy to travel and gardening. The Book Sense Picks lists are used to stock the store with titles of more general interest. "We don't want to exclude any readers from the store," Henni commented.

The store is sponsoring three book clubs, specifically for men, women, and writers. It also is hosting a gay family story hour, featuring family friendly books, like King and King (Linda de Haan, Tricycle Press).

Lavender Inkwell sells a variety of gifts, including local crafts, teas, glassware, and merchandise that Henni describes as "pride items," including GLBT-themed or rainbow-patterned candles, posters, clothing, and banners.

Henni works daily in the store and Besaw joins him at 4:00 p.m. when he returns from another job.

As do many new booksellers, Henni lamented, although he and Besaw founded the business because of a love of books, "Now I never have any time to read with so much else to do." --Nomi Schwartz