Nightbird Books Takes Flight

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Lisa Sharp, the owner of Nightbird Books, which opened in April in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a college town of more than 65,000, has been pleasantly surprised by the lengths that people have gone to show their support for her new bookstore.

Approximately 500 people celebrated Nightbird Books' grand opening.

At Nightbird's April 8 grand opening, approximately 500 people celebrated and listened to a jazz band at a catered, all-day party. "It was something the community was anticipating," said Sharp, "and we had a really big day." Nightbird served gourmet treats from neighboring restaurant, La Maison des Tartes. "They catered the whole event," Sharp said. "And at the end of the night they told me they were giving it to me as a gift. It was wonderful. They've also let me put up fliers and leave bookmarks that have our store name and website address."

Sharp said that La Maison des Tartes wasn't the only local business helping the bookstore augment its customer base. "The coffee shops are also letting me leave fliers and bookmarks. And lots of customers come in, grab 50 bookmarks, and leave them at other businesses around town. They're turning up all over the place. It's been nice because I've been so busy I haven't had time to do a lot of marketing. But other people are doing it for me."

The store is a renovated 1930s feed mill in a neighborhood of south Fayetteville.

Nightbird's name is based, in part, on the title of a painting that Sharp's husband bought for her a few years ago. "When I needed to choose a name, I thought the bird in the painting would translate well into an interesting logo, and Nightbird Books sounded more interesting than Lisa's Bookstore or some other variation of that," she explained. "I also am trying to build up evening business, so it seemed appropriate. We are just south of Fayetteville's nightlife center, and I hope to establish the bookstore as another entertainment stop."

The 1,900-square-foot "comfortable and modern" general bookstore is in a renovated 1930s feed mill in a neighborhood of south Fayetteville that Sharp described as "starting to grow" and with a burgeoning restaurant scene.

The store's upper floor offers a comfortable place to sit.

One of those relatively new restaurants is La Maison des Tartes, which has partnered with Nightbird Books for other events since the grand opening. The bookstore recently organized an author reading and dinner at the restaurant featuring Kevin Brockmeier (The Brief History of the Dead, Pantheon), a type of event Sharp plans to offer regularly. On Thursday nights, the businesses team up and host the local farmers market in their parking lot: the restaurant offers tapas and wine tastings, and Nightbird invites a band to play outside the store. "I walk up and down the farmers market handing out bookmarks," Sharp said. "It's really pulled in a lot of people."

Another big draw, and an apt touch for Nightbird, is a large aviary in the center of the store that houses an assortment of 18 finches, doves, and canaries. "They've been singing all the time," Sharp reported. "A baby dove just hatched. Kids have been coming in all the time, dragging along their parents or grandparents, to watch its progress. We want to get someone from the local Audubon Society to do a presentation, maybe every other month, on the birds in the store and Arkansas birds in general." The aviary was installed by Living Design, which regularly visits the aviary to maintain it and monitor the birds' health.

Sharp, who had been the bookkeeper of her husband's architectural firm, hadn't had any bookselling experience prior to Nightbird. One of her primary sources of information on the care and feeding of a bookstore came from the consulting firm Paz and Associates, which also helps her put together a print newsletter. "I send them some information, and they customize the rest," she said. "They do all the co-op for you. I just sign a piece of paper. And everyone loves the newsletter. I've got it in restaurants and coffee shops all over town."

Sharp also relies on the Book Sense marketing program, especially the Book Sense Picks. "I keep two bookcases of the picks -- one with the current month and one with the past," she explained. "The current list is all face out. Customers always look through it, and I hand out the fliers." Sharp decided to create a customized Book Sense gift card with the store's logo. "We sold a lot as teachers' gifts when school let out. They've been selling steadily, although not as much during the summer."

After about three months of bookselling, Sharp was happy to report, "I'm having so much fun, I'll spend 10 to 12 hours here and I don't even notice. I love when people come in the store, thank me for opening, and compliment my selection, which I'm always happy to hear because it was very intimidating to choose 8,000 books."

Still, the euphoria of opening a new bookstore hasn't obscured the bottom line. "I'm really concentrating on just letting people know we're here," she explained. "I think having a bookkeeping background has helped in focusing on the numbers. I make sure that I'm ordering in such a way that I'm getting a 45 percent discount instead of 40, and that I know who's offering free freight and who isn't. I'm constantly handselling, watching my turns, and since I first opened, sales have pretty much doubled." --Karen Schechner