It’s hard to imagine Decatur, GA, a popular suburb of Atlanta, without a kids’ bookstore. “I moved to Decatur and saw how it was evolving, and I thought it’d be a great place for a children’s bookstore,” says Diane Capriola. “It’s an idea I had for a very long time, and I either had to let go of the idea or see if I could make it happen.” So she sent an email to everyone she knew, sharing her plan and asking if anyone wanted to partner with her. A friend forwarded the email to her husband Dave Shallenberger, an attorney looking for a career change. &ldqou;He was initially very skeptical about the idea. But we decided to go to book selling school in Chicago, and what we learned there was that if an independent bookstore was going to survive, Decatur was the community it could really thrive in. So we came back from Chicago ready to move forward.”
Little Shop Of Stories—named on a whim by Capriola’s mother—opened in 2005 on the Decatur square. Handmade signs label sections like "Chapter Books," "A-Z Series" and "Poetry." There’s even a "Books For Grownups" area and a "Littler Shop Of Stories," which is a room within the store filled with board books, tiny tables and chairs for the smallest shoppers. The walls are covered with signed illustrations and blown-up book pages.
Decatur embraced the Little Shop Of Stories—or "Little Shop," as the locals started calling it. "The people who live here and do business here really believe in supporting locally owned shops," says Capriola. "Decatur is a community of families of readers, a great school system that encourages reading, and a great library system." A perfect combination of first-timers and regulars keeps Capriola’s business steady. But despite the physical store’s popularity, Capriola’s preparing to sell books and ebooks online. "The obvious challenges are Amazon, big-box bookstores and electronic devices," she says. "We can’t ignore it and act like it’s not out there."
E-commerce is a practical move, but the event calendar is what really makes the bookstore thrive in a digital world. Families line up on the Decatur square to register for Little Shop’s summer reading camps, and the shop hosts book-based community events throughout the year. Capriola says a visit from author Neil Gaiman put them on the map in 2009. He was touring in support of his Newbery Medal winner The Graveyard Book, a creepy middle-grade story of a boy who grew up in a cemetery. Gaiman held a contest to decide where he’d stop on his tour—the store that hosted the most amazing party based on his book would win a visit. "Our staff went all out and threw this really fantastic Halloween party. We converted our basement to this creepy underworld," she says. "We had over a thousand people show up. That was a real turning point for us." Since then, the shop has hosted bestselling authors like Kevin Henkes and Mary Poppins herself, Julie Andrews.
In April, Little Shop Of Stories held its own royal-wedding ceremony in anticipation of Prince William and Kate Middleton exchanging vows. Children came dressed for the event. There were flower girls and a ring bearer. During the ceremony, kids read from picture books about weddings. They tossed a bouquet. Guests enjoyed cake and music. The bride and groom? Diane’s Golden Retriever, Scout, and another bookseller’s French bulldog, Hiro. "We’ll do just about anything to get people in here," says Capriola. "Even marry two dogs."