Svetlyachok bookstore has been a part of downtown Kutztown for ten years, and owners Rebecca Lynch and Matthew Williams are looking forward to showing the community their appreciation for the support they have shown over the years.
Firefly Bookstore will celebrate its 10th anniversary with sales and other events Friday through Monday, September 2-5.
KyoDaiko, a Taiko (Japanese drum) group from Philadelphia, will be opening in front of the store on Saturday, September 3rd. Other activities will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., as well as refreshments. The store will be open as usual until 8:00 p.m.
“It was great to be downtown,” Williams said in a press release for the event. “We started in 2012 in the next block at 230 West Main with just 1,200 square feet. In five years, we outgrew the space and were fortunate enough to move into the old Jackie & Daughter space at 271 West Main.”
The business plan the partners developed over the past few years was based in part on their own experience working in bookstores.
“I worked in bookstores most of my adult life, outside of school,” Lynch explained. “Actually, I was part of the opening team at Wyomissing Borders back in the late ’90s.”
Williams’ background in books was less varied than his partner’s, but included work in a library as well as graphic design and technology.
“We have some overlapping skills, but we both have a range of experiences that have really helped us build this business,” he said.
Moving to a bigger space
In December 2016, they completed the purchase of 271 West Main. In January, work on the reconstruction of the premises began.
“It was difficult. To put it mildly,” Williams said. “We didn’t have a big budget, so a lot of work was done by ourselves and a few of our friends. I had to learn very quickly how to do such construction and repair of buildings.”
“We’ve even done special events to sweep the floor, build bookshelves or paint and ask for volunteers to help us,” he continued. “What was amazing was how people responded.”
“We were very grateful to everyone who was willing to put in their time to help get the store ready,” Williams added.
The move from 230 to 271 West Main required a small army of volunteers to pack, move and unpack each of the shelves. Once again, the community rallied to support the business.
“We knew it was going to be a multi-day process to get the books, shelves and all the other furniture into the new space,” Lynch explained. “But in addition to ourselves and our employees, people came out in the March weather and helped as much as they could. It was fantastic and nice.”
In March 2017, Firefly was able to open its doors in a new 3,000-square-foot space, adding more than 50 new bookshelves, as well as dedicated workspaces for book buying and shipping.
“It was so liberating to have the space to spread out again,” Lynch said. “So many things we wanted to do became possible.”
After opening the new space, Lynch and Williams began expanding staff and adding new events. In particular, the monthly Open Mic Night has become a haven for published and emerging writers to share their work and stories.
“Overall, the events we’ve held for local authors and writers have been quite successful,” Lynch noted. “Having the space to do it properly was crucial.”
The challenges of the past 10 years have been fairly typical of a new business; building a client base, balancing cash flow, building a staff and learning to take time off were all part of the first few years on the job.
As with many other small businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 shutdowns have become a particular challenge for bookstore owners. Like many in their industry, they had to shift their focus very quickly.
“We were able to transition our business to online and curbside pickup relatively smoothly, although it took a lot more work,” Williams said. “When our employees were retired, Rebecca and I were in the store 10-12 hours a day, six days a week. Everything was delayed.”
“But we still think we’re very lucky. Not every bookstore was able to do what we did, and other downtown stores were also affected by the closings, Williams continued. “Again, the support and encouragement of our customers really got us through the worst of it. This community really cares about having a bookstore downtown, and we appreciate that.”
What future awaits the store?
“We see that our business will need to continue to build an online presence. One of the takeaways from the pandemic is that a strong online business can provide solid support for a business. But the foundation will still be the local community,” Lynch said.
“A bookstore should be a dynamic space that evolves and changes with its customers,” Williams added. “This means increasing some sections and possibly reducing others. For example, we hope to continue to expand the games and puzzles section, add more space for children’s books, and more health and wellness books.
“We believe that the demands of the future will need resources like Firefly,” he continued.
They have an upstairs space that they would like to finish so they can use it to expand events, create gallery space and have space for special collections.
“It will take time to fully develop, but we have already started using the space for Book Club meetings,” he said.
For Firefly, these are not only practical topics such as the environment, health, society or education. The owners also see the need for a small escape, an oasis for emotional and mental recovery.
“Reading is good for us in many ways. Games and puzzles can also be stimulating and energizing, reconnecting people and helping children develop skills,” Williams said.
“A bookstore can support in more ways than one. We can be a safe space, a comfortable environment, a place to find new stories and ideas,” Lynch added. “We can be a place to recharge so that our customers can solve problems in their lives.
“We are very excited for the future of Firefly. We hope our customers will too.”
Firefly Bookstore is open daily from 11am to 8pm. To celebrate the anniversary on Labor Day, the store will be open for regular hours, opening early at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 3. For more information, check out the store’s events page at www.fireflybookstore.com/event-calendar or contact the store at 484-648-2712.