A Novel Idea at Home Among Other Independents in Chattanooga Hot Spot

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Since A Novel Idea opened in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2000, it has become the place for regional titles. "What most people in Chattanooga know us for are our books about local history and by local authors," said co-owner Karen Poole. "We carry a lot of books on Civil War history. There was a big battle fought here in Chattanooga, and battles fought on Missionary Ridge."

The 2,400-square-foot general bookstore is housed in the original post office for the North Shore area of Chattanooga, across the river from the city's downtown. "It has exposed brick walls, hardwood oak floors. It's a beautiful building," said Poole. "And the area businesses around us are all independently owned."

A Novel Idea is across the street from the Tennessee River and a park featuring a century-old carousel of wooden giraffes, fish, frogs, rabbits, and horses, which has been completely refurbished. "All the animals were hand carved here in Chattanooga," explained Poole. "One of the ladies who worked here part-time carved one of the [new] horses."

The bookstore, which Poole co-owns with Pamela Harper, recently started stocking Book Sense Gift cards. "I'm glad we're doing that. One thing we need to do is invest in putting our logo on the card. The generic card was fine, but we found a lot of people look at the card and ask, 'Where does it say A Novel Idea?'"

Poole, who grew up on a farm about 50 miles north of Chattanooga, worked in computer programming before turning to bookselling. "I'd worked on ... a large, four-year project where I managed 32 full-time and 32 part-time people," she explained. "When that was over, I said, 'I'm done.' It seemed like a great time to make a change."

Poole was also inspired to open a bookstore by her mother, whom she lost to cancer. "I learned from her that you should live with no regrets," she said. "My dream throughout all my life has been to have a bookstore. My impetus was thinking about my mother saying, 'Don't wait to do what you need to do.' That really put a fire behind me."

After opening A Novel Idea, Poole attended a Paz & Associates Booksellers School, which she said was "so helpful it was just amazing." Her only regret was not having attended the school before opening. More recently, Poole participated in her first ABA Winter Institute. "I've already put two or three things into practice that I learned there from classes and other booksellers."

One of the sessions she attended was "Efficiency," where she had a crash course in delegating. "I don't know if every owner does this, but I know I do ... I think I need to do everything -- cleaning the bathrooms, all the bookkeeping, marketing, creating displays. But you can't do it all. Just because someone creates a display differently from the way I would, so what? Maybe it's better. The class was good at breaking things down and teaching us how to make the best use of our time."

Poole was one of 26 booksellers who received a publisher-sponsored scholarship to the Winter Institute. "Simon & Schuster was my benefactor," she said. "I'm going to send them a note to let them know how important it was to me. I had registered and wanted to go, but was struggling to fit it in the budget." Of the call from ABA informing her of her scholarship, she said, "It was like an answered prayer."

After seven good years, Poole believes things are about to take an even better turn for the bookstore. "The North Shore is expanding rapidly," she said. "There's lots of development along the river, new condos, and new businesses. Our plans are to expand our book clubs and author, as well as authorless, events, and to get our website up and running. It feels like there's a real need -- this area is the hottest spot in Chattanooga." --Karen Schechner