Roxanne Coady announced in an email letter early Monday morning that she is looking for a new owner of , the bookstore she founded 22 years ago, at 768 Boston Post Road in Madison, CT, in the heart of the shoreline town's retail district.
A full copy of the letter is below.
"Donna Paz Kaufman, founder of the Bookstore Training Group of Paz & Associates will handle the process for us. She is a highly respected educator, consultant and friend of independent bookselling who has known the store for years and knows the industry inside out. Donna, along with her husband and partner Mark Kaufman, will insure that we do this right--for our staff, our readers, our community and our industry," Coady says in the letter.
Store has local, regional, and national reputation
The store is known locally, regionally, and nationally for its innovative approach to attracting customers, including specific guidance to local book clubs, selling electronic books, attracting nationally known authors for talks, and sponsoring events like grandparent's teas and Ladies Night Out. R. J. Julia has successfully positioned itself as a "third place" in the area, where people go to buy books, talk about books, grab a bite to eat at the R.J. Cafe, and meet like-minded people in the community.
Donna Paz Kaufman, founder of the Bookstore Training Group of Paz & Associates, said Coady's decision to find a buyer for the store presents an ideal opportunity for someone who might be interested in a career transition.
"That's what we've seen with the transition of other community anchors like this," she said. "Somebody in the community, or somebody who has visited the community seeks the opportunity of owning a business that feeds the head and feeds the heart. This is a bookstore like that. For R. J. Julia, one of its greatest assets is that somebody who buys this store will not only be able to carry on the legacy locally, but it has a national reputation as well. Publishers are very much tuned in to the market there in Madison, so they are very committed to making sure they support the store."
Timing of the sale not clear at this point
Paz Kaufman said "it will be fascinating to see who rethinks their lives and what they have been doing for a living." She added that the timing of the sale is not clear at this point.
"That process will unfold," she said. "Nobody wants to push the river in these situations. They employ a lot of people, the store means a lot to the community. Roxanne really wants to find a good fit. In terms of her next chapter, she can step that up whenever the right person surfaces. It's exciting for everybody. For the staff, it will be a transition, and they will have time to get ready for that."
Mark Kaufman of Paz & Associates said that their company will not be acting as brokers, but rather that they will be helping Coady sort through people who express an interest, in an effort to find the best fit for the store.
"It's like giving her baby up for adoption"
"We're not brokers," he said. "Donna and Roxanne go back even longer than Donna and I do. Donna started this business 20 years ago. We are dedicated to independent bookselling and so we offer a variety of services. We've had a long-standing relationship with Roxanne and know her well, so when she decided to move on to other things, she asked us if we would be interested in, let's see, probably the best way to say it is, qualifying prospective owners. Running a store is a full-time endeavor. Her feeling is that we would be in a good position to help her find the best person for the store."
Kaufman said finding a good fit is important for Coady.
"This is her baby. It's like giving her baby up for adoption. We want to make sure we find a suitably qualified candidate," he said.
Kaufman said he and Paz will be fielding inquiries and talking with people about their background, their interests and their vision for the store's future.
"We have some basic information from Roxanne about the operation itself that we could pass along and from that point, we will give her a list of people. Next steps might include asking people to sign a non-disclosure agreement so that she could share financials," he said. "And from there, the deal will be between them, we do not work on commission."
Kaufmann said he and Paz will try to impress upon potential buyers "the nature of what it means to own an independent bookstore."
"You have to understand the nature of the business"
"We will try to get a sense of how realistic people are about owning the store," he said. He said Paz & Associates does workshop retreats twice a year called "Owning A Bookstores, The Business Essentials."
"We talk with people about why you own a store," he said. "We ask, 'how many of you think you will have more time to read?' If you are going to have a retail store, you have to understand the nature of the business. That's pretty much the information we want to impart, how many different hats someone would have to wear, the expertise you need. We want to know, what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses?"
Kaufman said it is not unusual for independent bookstore owners to proceed this way when it comes to looking for an owner, and that Paz & Associates currently is doing the same thing for a bookstore in Illinois and another in South Carolina.
Searching for the right direction in the era of online competition
Coady has been struggling for a while to figure out the best direction for the store, in an era when so many people rely on online booksellers instead of their local bookstore. In early 2011, she sent out an email to readers soliciting ideas for the future of the bookstore.
"I can't be silly about how people are going to go about doing this ... people are going to do what they are going to do," she told a group gathered at the store. "Either we're doing what you need and are willing to pay for it one or the other, or we should go away ... We've got 45 employees who have got to get paid ... Should we make the store smaller? Change it? What should we do to figure it out? You just keep us posted and we'll keep you posted."
News of Coady's desire to find a new owner sparked some chatter on Facebook Monday morning.
"Roxanne has inspired many on the shoreline to follow their dreams. I wish them much luck and prosperity. RJ Julia's is an amazing place," said Nikki Eterginio-Rasmussen, a comment that reflected the views of many of the store's customers.
[Email sent out Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, 6:33 a.m.]
Twenty-two years ago, 8 months pregnant with Edward, I gave birth to R.J. Julia Booksellers and one month later, my son Edward. These have been extraordinary years--filled with the joy of raising a child; the delight of developing a bookstore, the pleasure of working with hundreds of dedicated staff; with the honor of introducing thousands of writers to readers and the thrill of helping customers find just the right book. But ultimately, the most satisfying work has been to create a place that has become the center of our community and an environment that nourishes all that the joy of reading can bring to our lives.
Edward will graduate from Kenyon College in May and now belongs to the world--Kevin and I hope that we have raised him to be kind, compassionate, independent, thoughtful, hardworking, ready to be productive and make a difference. We think it's also time for R.J. Julia to grow in new ways, in the care of new hands that will guide the store to take its proper place in a new world; a changing of the guard in a time of change.
Rest assured: This is not an end for R.J. Julia, but simply a new beginning. The store will not close. We are determined to see R.J. Julia survive and thrive into the future. And there is good reason to think it can. The last few months have shown a resurgence of support and sales for independents across the country. There is even talk of this being the beginning of a renaissance for independent bookselling.
I concur with that thinking and believe that R.J. Julia and our community deserve to take advantage of this renaissance. To do this successfully, the store needs a new steward. Two venerable bookstores have seamlessly been transferred to new owners over the last couple of years--Politics & Prose in Washington, DC and Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA. The new owners are innovating, investing and reinventing--it is extraordinarily exciting to witness. I have spent many hours talking with the new and old owners and feel confident that we can accomplish as seamless a transfer at R.J. Julia.
So we will begin the process. I am committed to being patient in order to find the right person and to do this the right way. The first and foremost priority is putting this big, cherished baby we call R.J. Julia into the right hands. All that has been accomplished in these years is now part of R.J. Julia's DNA--all the staff have left their mark, all the authors have left their inspiration. And all conversations, joy, sadness and ideas that you have left-- it's all still here.
When we opened in 1990 independent booksellers were finishing a decade of prosperity and vibrancy. The next decade brought the onslaught of the chains opening hundreds of stores and the 800 pound gorilla, Amazon, began its ascent. Thousands of independent bookstores closed yet we remained vibrant and committed to our purpose. We were able to do this because of the staff who worked here over these years, because of the support of publishers and authors, and most of all because of all of you who have been loyal in your support of us and passionately committed to our existence. I believe words will continue to matter; reading, in whatever form, will remain vital; and our desire to connect will endure. These qualities have been and will continue to be the ingredients of R.J. Julia's future success.
What will I do next? Over these years my work at Read to Grow educated me about the dire condition of low literacy rates in our country and the devastating impact this has on our children and their families. I intend to commit my time to reversing this trend--no sense having bookstores if we are not developing readers--no sense fixing our education system if we are sending children in who are not equipped to learn. This feels like an ideal next step in my career. What can you do? Continue your enthusiastic and loyal support of R.J. Julia, and think about whether you or someone you know could be the ideal person to take R.J. Julia into the future.
Donna Paz Kaufman, founder of the Bookstore Training Group of Paz & Associates will handle the process for us. She is a highly respected educator, consultant and friend of independent bookselling who has known the store for years and knows the industry inside out. Donna, along with her husband and partner Mark Kaufman, will insure that we do this right--for our staff, our readers, our community and our industry. They are the ones to contact with questions, suggestions or interest in additional information, and can be reached at 904-277-2664 or by sending an email to DPaz@PazBookBiz.com.
We will have plenty of time to talk about all this, tell stories and remember our favorite author, event or book. But in the meantime, you have my personal commitment that I and the staff at R.J. Julia will do what we have done for 22 years--we will work hard to be a place where words matter, where writer meets reader and where we are committed to putting the right book in the right hand. All of you got us here, and all of us can ensure that this place called R.J. Julia will continue to thrive, enriching the lives of our community and our families with that indescribable joy of reading.
Yes, as always, see you in the store,