Our Journey from A Bookshop to A Giftshop

2018 was my precursor to 2020. I learned to not say what could go wrong next because the Universe saw it as a challenge to be accepted. But, one thing positive came from 2018. The birth of Southern Pen Bookshop- a retail outlet catering to independent authors.

The perfect location made itself available to me in our small town of Monroe, Georgia. A newly renovated building in the historic downtown area. My husband and I had often visited the place when it was a hardware store owned by a local family. A local developer purchased the building from the family, stripped it to its original bones, gussied up the ole' girl, and named it The Monroe Mercantile.

The interior with its original hardwood floors that talks with every step, the mezzanine situated in the back, and all the nuances that makes the building warm and inviting became home for Olive Branch Antiques & Home Décor and Cheely's Café & General Store. After speaking with Chad Cheely, I had a spot. It was tucked away in a corner with a single bookcase.

Southern Pen Bookshop had a home and the vision of helping other Independent Authors was becoming a reality. Little did I expect the response from authors, like myself, wanting a place that treated them and their books as the main event. Southern Pen literally grew overnight and I often found myself going to Chad and asking for more space. We had outgrown the little corner and bookcase.

Life was good. There were booksignings, book launch parties, our first annual Christmas Tea, a Highschool Writing Contest, we sponsored the first annual Georgia Independent Author of the Year Award, and hosted a successful Writer's Conference. Southern Pen Bookshop was becoming the voice for the Independent Authors and offered many services to help them.

Days before our Second Writer's Conference COVID hit. I'd been listening to the news of this virus as it traveled around the globe and knew it was a matter of time before it would be in the

U.S. Little did I expect, like a lot of people, the devastation it would bring to everyone. The conference was canceled. We had to close. 2020 had become 2018 all over again. Our momentum stopped with a screeching, head jerking halt.

One thing I've learned from studying history and the business people who made themselves household names is adaptability is the key to survival. As we reopened, our book sales were sluggish. This is when we began to add gifts and created Zane's Zoo. The concept for Zane's Zoo is to encourage reading with children of all ages and helping shelter animals. Each Zane's Zoo pet comes with a book (often written by indie authors) and a previously loved stuffie aka stuff animal. This was one way to stay true to the initial vision of Southern Pen Bookshop.

Little by little and thanks to having a local community who support small businesses, our sales began to grow. However, our book sales were not rebounding. After many days and nights of wrestling with the logical and emotional side of what to do with Southern Pen Bookshop, the decision to restructure our original vision was made. We would focus more on gifts, Zane's Zoo, and downsize the book portion of the shop. We'd still sponsor the GIAYA award and stock a smaller selection of indie authors.

Our journey from a bookstore to a giftshop has come with some bumps, bruises, and tears. No one ever said it was going to be easy.