I never really wrote about my Urban Think! Bookstore tenure on this blog. It was a conscious decision– the bookstore had its own website, and a Twitter presence, and a Facebook page, and loyal customers… it didn’t need the extra injection of personality that this blog of mine purports to thrive on.
But today, my last at Urban Think!, brings to the surface a plain truth: as myriad people have told me this week, I and my co-workers were the face of the bookstore just as much as the bookstore defined us.
In my case, that was a truth that shone for nine years.
We opened in November of 2001, while the country was still reeling from the effects of 9/11. I began as assistant manager, and can clearly recall touring the bookstore site that summer when the floors were still dirt, the supporting piers still unpainted concrete. It was almost impossible to think that a working bookstore would be filling the space in a few short months… yet it did. And nothing like it had ever been created. In those early days, Thornton Park was a newly-thriving neighborhood of vernacular cottages and small apartment units; services were few, but visionaries and developers quickly filled in the blanks along Central Boulevard and Summerlin Avenue and Washington Street with businesses which would cater to the people moving in. And our bookstore was one of these pioneers. I remember thinking: I get to work in Thornton Park… and in a bookstore! It was really a dream come true, and something that I’d always wanted to do.
It was wonderful. I helped with and watched the business grow under our special brand of promotion: “guerilla marketing” was something which brought us out of the shop and into the nearby office towers armed with brochures, promotional materials, and a lot of enthusiasm. I made lots of trips up and down elevators, carrying boxes of drink “coozies” emblazoned with our corporate colors; often, I felt like Joan Crawford announcing the opening of a new Pepsi bottling plant as I bumbled my way into corporate Orlando: “Hi, I’m Jim Crescitelli… I work at a new independent bookstore over in Thornton Park.” Sometimes I got blank stares: Thornton Park? But they soon found out where I was coming from, and some even became customers.
We weathered the vagaries of everything in our nine years: the effects of 9/11; internet competition and the ease of visiting online bookstores; racks of loss-leader bestsellers at local supermarkets; the softening real estate market… etc. Through it all, we did our best, with an eclectic selection of books, offsite book sales at dozens of locations, a separate children’s bookstore, and astounding book fairs at many local schools. Our dedicated owners (the Ustler and Harris families) were brave and dedicated beyond the call of duty to try it all, and everyone involved did his or her best to try and make it all work.
Times had changed. By 2010, my co-worker Linda and I were faced with the fact that our doors would be closing, and these past few weeks we managed to work toward a dignified closure. Today we had our final day. Many of you loyal book buyers called or stopped by to express your regrets but, more importantly, you thanked us for being such a vital part of Thornton Park for so long. And some of you even treated Linda and I to cocktails!
How many people get to experience nine non-stop years at a fabulous independent bookstore? Not many. The events… the book signings… the parties… it was literary and social magic. We made lots of durable friends, and were instrumental in bringing a high measure of visibility to Thornton Park.
I’d like to thank all my co-workers at Urban Think! and Urban Think! Kids (our children’s bookstore in College Park) by name (I keep lists, so this is easy): Debby (our original manager), Vonnie, Tre, Kirsten, Kristin, Judith, Lisa, Toby, Elizabeth, Adam, Matt, Jenny, Paige, Ginny, Chris, John, Nancy, Katie, Linda, Lizzie, Jordan, Liz, Becky, Patricia, Madie, Megan, William, Kaitlyn, Brendan, Gary (our ace deli manager), Maxx, Madison, Andrew, Betsey and Scott, and Kathleen. To all of you, I thank you for helping make my independent bookstore experience a memorable and loving time in my life.
I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world.
Keep reading… keep discovering new worlds… and keep in touch !