Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bookstore of the Month: R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut

R. J. Julia Booksellers
768 Boston Post Rd.
Madison, CT 06443
(203) 245-3959
R. J. Julia on Facebook
R. J. Julia on Twitter
R. J. Julia on Pinterest

Billing itself as "A Great Place to Meet Books," R. J. Julia Booksellers has been introducing readers to books since 1990, operating out of a charming brick building along the Connecticut shoreline (the store is a former bar and grill).  When Roxanne Coady and her husband Kevin opened the bookstore, she was in her last trimester of pregnancy.  As she wrote in a 2012 email to her customers:
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.
The occasion for the email was the announcement that Coady was looking for someone to buy the bookstore after two decades in the bookselling business.  To date, that hasn't happened--at least Coady is still at the bookstore, as you can see by this photo where she and staff celebrate winning an award from Neil Gaiman for the indie bookstore that sold the most hardcover copies of his novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

In her 2012 email, Coady wrote:
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.

For more on Coady's entry into the business at age 39, leaving behind a successful career at a New York accounting firm, you should read "Facing Forty and Embracing Risk."

R. J. Julia has certainly been a quick and certain success in the often-uncertain bookselling business.  Over the years, it has racked up numerous awards, including the Publishers Weekly Bookseller of the Year Award, the Lucy Pannell award for bookselling excellence, Connecticut Magazine Best Bookstore, Connecticut Retailers Award for Community commitment, Advocate’s Best Bookstore and the New Haven Business Small Business Award.

The bookstore is one of the most reader-centric I've seen, placing customer service and community service on the same shelf.  In 1998, Coady founded Read to Grow, a Connecticut statewide nonprofit organization that reaches out to new parents while their still in the hospital to help them understand the importance of literacy from the time their children are born.  R. J. Julia facilitates book donations from customers through the store and the website.  Coady's own passion about the transformative power of books is evidenced in the one she herself co-authored, The Book That Changed My Life, in which 71 writers relate how a specific book impacted them.  The proceeds from the book go to Read to Grow.

Coady--ever fearless, ever tireless, ever innovative--also started a program called Just the Right Book, a book recommendation program which uses "a secret sauce from our network of book experts."  After filling out a "preference form," subscribers receive hand-picked books each month chosen by a literary expert based on the customer's personal reading tastes and individual preferences.  Customers can update and change their profile at any time to reflect their mood or interests.  They can even request specific titles by email or phone.  If they don't agree that a book is just right for them, R. J. Julia will send them a postage-paid return label.  It's quite a clever idea, don't you agree?

As the website notes, the store's "mission was, and is, to be a place where words matter, where writer meets reader, where the ambiance and selection and merchandising of books creates an atmosphere that is welcoming and presents the opportunity for discovery.  Ultimately we are fiercely committed to putting the right book in the right hand."

R. J. Julia is the featured bookstore all this month at The Quivering Pen.  By clicking on the links to books mentioned in this month's blog posts, you'll be taken to the store's website where you can purchase the book (or, better yet, several books).  The Quivering Pen is dedicated to supporting independent bookstores.

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