Offering Words of Wisdom in Jasper, Indiana

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Already named one of the 25 best small towns in America, Jasper, Indiana, can now boast its own independent bookstore. Words of Wisdom, a general bookstore, owned by Michelle O'Connor, opened on November 11, 2005.

As far back as O'Connor can remember, there hasn't been a bookstore in the southern Indiana town of 12,000. The local Wal-Mart sells books, but the nearest bookstore is an hour's drive away.

O'Connor spent the last 21 years as a "stay-at-home mom," but entertained the dream of her own bookstore. Without retail experience, she knew she would need some help before she could successfully open a store. Her husband, who is a silent partner in the venture, advised her to "learn as much as possible about the business, before starting anything," she recalled.

Her first stop was the search engine Google, which directed her to the American Booksellers Association, a resource, she told BTW, she has found extremely useful. "That started things rolling," O'Connor said. "Then I visited stores in Louisville, Kentucky, and Indianapolis."

She learned of the Bookseller School run by Paz & Associates and attended the session last March, in Florida. "It was invaluable," she said, " I could not have done it without the school." After attending both BookExpo America in New York City and GLBA in Chicago, O'Connor felt better prepared. "BEA was overwhelming. GLBA was more manageable," she commented. "Meeting other booksellers was phenomenal -- it was great to get my feet wet."

One of the important things that O'Connor said she learned, during her research, was "how little I knew."

Words of Wisdom is located in a house on a residential street, although a restaurant is next door and the public library is across the street. Both enhance the location. "I purchased an older home with about 1,400 square feet," O'Connor said. "It was owned by an artist and his family, and they left a lot of neat things behind -- like stained glass murals. In the kitchen, I took all the doors off the cabinets and created shelf space. That's where the cookbooks are. Each room has a theme. In the upstairs bedrooms, the one with the loft is for teens, another is for story time, and another is for book clubs and classes."

O'Connor said that much help in setting up inventory came from the wholesaler Ingram Book Group, whom, she said, she "has been very pleased to work with." The Book Sense lists have also aided O'Connor's buying choices, and she "absolutely always [copies] the Book Sense Bestseller Lists on Thursdays. If I haven't already ordered one of the books, when I see it on the list, I order it.

"We had a wonderful Christmas season," she told BTW. Business has slowed down since then, but people are still coming in to redeem Book Sense gift cards. The store sold "a great deal of [gift cards] during the holidays," she said.

Once O'Connor found the building, she explained, "I thought I could put up bookshelves and move right in. Everything took much more time [than I had planned], but it came out just the way I wanted it and it's great.

"We held a grand opening the night before we opened. It was a reception for friends and community members -- I invited school principals, librarians, and the mayor. I felt like I was in a dream. The community has been wonderfully supportive. People come in and say, 'It's about time Jasper had a real bookstore.'" --Nomi Schwartz