When Nikkya Hargrove was growing up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, she worked every day after school as a cashier in her family’s convenience store.
Hargrove eventually settled on twin careers, one as a writer for the Washington Post and one as a youth development professional.
Today, she is hoping to make a full circle and return to retail with her own independent bookstore called Serendipity Books in Stratford.
“Stratford needs a bookstore,” she said, noting the intellectual and emotional connection that people get when finding a special book on a shelf. “It is that feeling inside when you walk through the aisle of a bookstore and put your finger on any title, pick it out, run your fingers through it — maybe you’ll like it or maybe you don’t, but at least you have the opportunity to do that. Which is something that you miss on Amazon.”
The e-commerce giant with its selection of 3.4 million books is not the only behemoth that dominates the book retailing industry. As of the end of 2016, Barnes & Noble operated 640 retail bookstores in 50 states, with Fairfield County locations in Westport, Stamford and Danbury plus additional stores in nearby Milford, North Haven and Waterbury. However, Hargrove did not see that chain as a competitor.
“While Barnes & Noble is great and I go there often, it is not around the corner,” she said.
Hargrove’s plan for Serendipity Books reflects a wider trend in book retailing. According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookstores across the U.S. reached 2,311 as of 2016, — a 30 percent spike since 2009 and a significant rebirth after 1,000 stores went out of business between 2000 and 2007. Except for online stores, independent bookstores are the only channel in this sector to see their presence expand in recent years.
Hargrove credited the new emergence of independent bookstores with neighborhoods renewing their sense of self-identity, adding that Stratford was ready for this type of endeavor. “We have the big malls and the big bookstores, but we don’t have the small bookstores that provide community programming,” she said. “I’ve run into people wanting to bring back the community feel. I want to create a bookstore to bring the community together.”
Hargrove has also taken the spirit of community involvement one step further in launching an Indiegogo campaign to help raise funds for Serendipity Books’ startup costs. She pointed to a recent Indiegogo campaign by The Lit. Bar in the Bronx, which raised more than $149,000 in March to help finance a startup bookstore and wine bar. However, Hargrove’s campaign has not been as successful as The Lit. Bar’s effort.
“So far, we are close to $5,000 — our goal is $100,000,” she said of the campaign that ends on May 1. “We have a way to go — I am hoping for an extension on the campaign.”
Serendipity Books at the end of April hosted a pop-up store in the Two Roads Brewery at 1700 Stratford Ave., with a donated inventory by local authors and used books from supporters. Although Hargrove used the event to spread the word about her project, she was also eager to learn what residents are interested in reading.
“It will be a small inventory. I’m not looking to have a million titles at this point,” she said, adding that she is eager to highlight books by local writers as well as under-the-radar fiction and poetry. “My goal is to make you think a little deeper. We’ll have a little bit of everything. And if the community says that they want Jackie Collins, we’ll get her books in, too.”
Hargrove already has a commitment from Open Door Tea, a Stratford eatery, to sell coffee and pastries at Serendipity Books, which she hopes to have up and running by next year. She is eyeing an available location along Stratford’s Paradise Green and she hopes to include an e-commerce aspect to Serendipity Books. “There are a lot of folks who are not local who supported the Indiegogo campaign and would love to have an online addition for the store,” she said.
However, she admitted that her schedule is getting a little crowded. In addition to working on Serendipity Books, Hargrove is a program associate at the Wilton-based philanthropy Tauck Family Foundation while contributing freelance parenting articles to the Washington Post. She is also in conversation with publishers regarding her first book, which is based on her graduate school thesis on the effects of incarceration on children of inmates. And she is a mother to a 10-year-old and 1-year-old twins — and hopeful that someday her children will follow her example of working in the family business.
“I expect my kids to be in the store and helping — when they aren’t reading,” she said with a laugh.