A few customers come into the shop, shake their heads, and say, “Man, are you brave. I want to shake the hand of someone brave enough to open a bookstore.”
Why did you do it, they want to know. The answer is...I didn’t intend to. Not really.
The dream always floated around in my head. I defy any reader who has made their way through You’ve Got Mail to not fantasize about owning a charming little bookshop and, perhaps, marrying Tom Hanks. (Though, full disclosure, not my type. Nice enough. I need a little more rough around the edges. More on literary crushes in another post.)
The challenge with dreams like owning a bookshop is that reality usually finds a way to elbow its way in. Mortgage, kids, college, vacations, that new handbag. And as long as you are buying the handbag, might as well buy the shoes too. Year after year passed with me in a corporate advertising job that, while not my passion, was sometimes a hell of a lot of fun and more than paid the bills.
Someone once told me that the universe conspires for your success. And while I think I earned a big chunk of that myself, some of it happened without any agency of mine. Page 1 started as a conversation with some ladies I truly respect after a massage and a few martinis at the Soho House in Chicago. (Told you advertising could be fun.) I pitched the seed of this idea I had been chewing on and we talked through all the potential challenges and benefits. After, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When I’m excited about an idea, it consumes my brain. All night my brain fired off idea after idea until it was less of an effort than a compulsion.
The vision was Book of the Month Club meets StitchFix. Subscription boxes were hot. Personalized curation was hot. And let’s face it, even reading was hot. Oprah had always carried the torch, but now you have Reese, SJP, Emma Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, so on and so forth. Reading was becoming...dare I say it...fashionable? (For a hot second, even GiGi Hadid carried a book as an accessory. But really, I couldn’t swallow the dubious verisimilitude of that.). I jest not when I say Page 1 just took on a life of its own.
And further in my favor, I am blessed with a family that oozes capability, creative and otherwise. So between artists, photographers, writers, and muscle men, we created the Page 1 website in a weekend. I remember the excitement of clicking “Publish” on the Shopify site and bango presto, I launched a digital business. My expectations were low. The thrill of the creation alone would sustain me. For a while.
The first month we had six orders. SIX! The first from a sorority sister of mine. (Thank you Julie Lebenson!). The next month we had 21. Oh, what fun.. I wrapped all the books, I hand wrote all the notes, and I picked each little literary treat, carefully boxed everything, and shipped them with love.
By the end of year one, we had around 80 subscription boxes shipping each month. Still totally manageable with a full time job, almost a half dozen kids and three dogs. Totally.
And while I knew, maybe sort of thought-slash-knew, I couldn’t take on any more, I wondered what might happen if we just threw a $5 Facebook ad out there? And what might happen if we send a bundle to Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy? And what if we created a really special bundle for the holidays? The little operation I had running in the guest room began to spill over into the dining room, the living room, the hall. So. Many. Boxes.
I saw the tipping point far ahead the way the captain on the Titanic must have seen that iceberg. A moment loomed where I would have to decide. Keep going, working and doing my Page 1 side hustle? Dive fully into Page 1? And the unthinkable, give up Page 1 to keep my sanity?
And as I said earlier, the universe conspires for your success. Sometimes in the most unexpected ways. More next week...