Shelf Space

Q&A with Kate Jacobs, Co-owner of Little City Books

Donna Garban and Kate Jacobs opened Little City Books in Hoboken, New Jersey, two years ago and quickly amassed a faithful following. Here Jacobs tells us about the dog-friendly, kid-approved store where jazz greats, misfits, and mayors browse the well-curated shelves. 

How would you describe Little City Books to the uninitiated?

First of all, Hoboken: a packed, lively, utterly pleasant, sometimes-edgy, and always bustling small city across the Hudson from Manhattan. The bookstore is on a busy corner across from City Hall.

Now, the shop: bright and accessible (as opposed to dark and mysterious, also attractive in a bookstore but not us). Exceptionally friendly and helpful staff. LOTS of books, probably too many, but we require them to satisfy our many idiosyncratic interests.

Our Children’s Annex is the best children’s bookstore in the tristate area outside of Manhattan’s Books of Wonder. We defy anyone to have a better selection. We devote special attention to nonfiction for all ages and Spanish language. We have a small but gorgeous selection of toys.

If Little City were a religion, what would be its icons?

A dog, because our staff is dog-mad, and we have an entire section called “Dogs, etc.”—and a very popular Reading Tails program for kids to read aloud to lovely therapy dogs Brody and Zoey. Also the Clock Tower because it is our town’s most recognizable symbol, and we are Hoboken. And the Hudson River because we love the river above all other elements in our city, and it represents both constancy and constant change. 

Which was your favorite event and/or most memorable disaster?

One favorite event was our first musical presentation when jazz great Bucky Pizzarelli played to a sold-out house and told us he’d “play this gin joint any time.” Our most memorable disaster was this past spring when a perfect storm of torrential downpour and blocked roof drains caused a geyser in the toilet of the Children’s Annex just after the storytime crowd left….Damage was amazingly minimal.

How does the bookstore reflect the interests of your community? Shelf Kate Jacobs 11.9.17

We opened in a vacuum, and the community poured in. We won Best New Business from the chamber of commerce that year. Every day people come in and thank us. We serve a surprisingly large part of the community, which thrives on us. This includes children of all ages, intellectuals, young single people figuring out their lives, older readers who sorely missed having a local bookstore, oddballs and misfits, the mayor, exhausted parents, people who love to talk about books, people who want to browse silently for hours.

What trends are you noticing among young readers?

How young? We certainly see the Harry Potter effect—kids coming in looking for a new series to love. Our manager, Heather, created a popular “First Book in a Series” display. We have become the go-to Saturday-morning-birthday-party present stop—lots of kids are getting books and gift certificates for their birthdays.

The most visible demographic in the main shop is young adults. They love to walk around town and shop with their friends and families and dogs. They buy a lot of contemporary fiction and memoir.

What are some of the bookstore’s top current handsells?

Handselling is quite eclectic—we all have favorites, and of course each interaction is colored by the reader. Donna finds many opportunities to sell WilliamFinnegan’s Barbarian Days. We have a display for people who liked Girl on a Train. Heather sells Elizabeth Strout and Alice McDermott to readers “who  care about literary style but don’t want The Goldfinch or A Little Life.” Kate sells Penelope Fitzgerald and Jane Gardam (Updike when possible). Laura peers into the souls of babies and finds them the perfect book.

Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie.

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