Interview with A Novel Idea

A Novel Idea is a great place to go if you’re trying to figure out what book to read next. Husband and wife team, Christina and Alex, stock many local titles and hand-select all the books so that customers can find exactly what they’re looking for.


How did you start? What was the original idea and how did it all come together?

Christina: The idea to have a bookstore came from both of us being in places of discontentment with where we were working. I was adjuncting at three schools as a writing teacher, Alex was a graphic designer who was working freelance. We were running around like crazy people and while we were working within our fields we weren’t getting the projects that we wanted and we weren’t getting the compensation that we wanted. For me as a writer and as a writing teacher, the idea of being surrounded by books everyday was an amazing idea and I’ve always wanted a bookstore. My husband was like, “We could actually make this happen.” And so he kind of planted that seed.

Alexander: Once we had the idea we basically went around to every bookstore in the city and we kind of took notes of what we did like and what we didn’t like. We prioritized what we wanted to focus on which was local authors, small press, things you can’t find at other bookstores. We knew we wanted it to be more of a community space and reflect the people coming in. In eight months we’ve removed categories entirely, we’ve added ones that weren’t there before, we’ve built things out, everything has been adjusted based on what people are buying. It’s really important to us that we’re selling only the things that people want.


C: There were some things that were non-negotiable, we knew going in that we wanted to be a community space so that meant having a large small press section, working with local authors, putting on events with authors. Most of the products that we sell that aren’t books are made by local artisans. That is something that was integral to our mission.

What is the importance of community? Is there a reason you chose Passyunk in particular?

C: I did my masters program in creative writing right outside the city so I’ve been going to a lot of readings and events meeting local authors in the last three to four years. So community was a really important reason for wanting a space for me but also for my friends and for people that I really admire in the community. We also live in this neighborhood and there isn’t another bookstore for about a mile and a half. There are very few places still doing what we’re doing in terms of events. One of the bookstores I wanted to, in some ways, model was Big Blue Marble in Mt. Airy. They do about 200 events a year so that was the closest model that we saw in the area and we’re 10 miles away from there. It’s nice because we’re not competing with each other and what we’re doing is very different. It was very important to have a space where people can come and listen to a reading and actually get to meet the author. That’s my favorite part about working with local authors, you can have conversations with people about their actual book. Then there’s community writing groups and we’ve been running an open mic for the last few years, having these events that bring more people together.

A: Philadelphia is very community-minded and they want to support the places around them that are doing good things.If somebody is doing a good job or has a good message in Philly I think people rally around that. Passyunk has come from having Marra’s and another pizza shop and really nothing else on the avenue to what it is now. This was really on our mind how much people rally around things they like, things they want, something that we think the community needs.

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