In lieu of presents for their wedding, Alex Schneider and Christina Rosso-Schneider asked for money to start a bookstore.
Before opening their bookstore — A Novel Idea, based in East Passyunk, Philadelphia — Alex and Christina had been working multiple jobs and couldn’t spend much time together. Christina was an adjunct writing professor at multiple schools, while Alex had been working as a graphic designer. One day, about a year before they married, they had been walking around their neighborhood, looking at empty storefronts.
“One of us said — I think I said it — that this would be a really cute bookstore,” Christina said. “Immediately I thought, well, that’s not something that can happen. But Alex said we could do it, and I thought, yeah, why not?”
Neither of them had ever worked in a bookstore, so they spent the next few months researching possible locations, start-up costs, how many books to have. While they did this research and looked at spaces, they prepared for their wedding.
“It was a crazy time for us,” Alex said, laughing. “We got the keys to the bookstore in August 2018, married in October, and opened December 1. We had our whole family down here Thanksgiving weekend helping us put the store together. It was really down to the wire.”
From the start, Christina and Alex wanted A Novel Idea to be a hub for both the Philadelphia literary community and the community at large. In their first year alone, they hosted 233 events including author readings and book club gatherings. They devoted a section of their bookstore to local authors and publishers and would survey people in the community to ask what kinds of titles they wanted to see. Every two to three months they displayed a local artist’s work, and they sold goods from local artisans.
When the pandemic hit, however, they had to think of new ways to run the bookstore.
“We had to think really quickly of how of how to survive,” Christina said. “We don’t have a full online store because when we created our website we totally maxed out our budget and websites are expensive. But we figured it wasn’t a totally necessary thing for our business model, which is so focused on these personal, intimate interactions.”
In the first week, they pushed people to buy gift cards and got over 50 orders. They started focusing on direct-to-home orders through Ingram, their supplier, and hand delivered books within two miles of the store. They started to hold events via Zoom, and recently have returned to hosting 15 to 20 events a month. Since July, they’ve also allowed customers to book private time to browse the store.
“A lot of our customers have been excited about that. They get it to themselves for 30 minutes, or however long they book it,” Alex said. “We actually had a couple get engaged in the bookstore during a private appointment.”
“Yeah,” Christina said. “That was amazing.”