“Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be,
I had a Mother who read to me.”
What could be better for a bookstore-discount-card carrying book lover than to discover she lives about a mile away from a delightful small, independent bookstore? I first learned about Blue Willow Bookshop when a friend invited me to attend a book signing by one of her favorite authors. The event was so large it was held at a local high school auditorium and attended by I would guess several hundred enthusiastic folks ranging in age from grade school to retirement age.
Then I encountered Blue Willow again at a local conference on economic justice hosted at a large near-downtown church. Blue Willow ran the book sales portion of the conference.
When I re-married in 2014 and moved into my husband’s home I discovered I had moved to within walking distance of the Blue Willow Bookshop. Well – I could walk there – but so haven’t. The route between home and shop is not pedestrian-friendly.
Owner Valerie Koehler has taken what was primarily a children’s bookstore and developed it into a true literary treasure in our part of Houston. Children’s books are still highly visible as one walks into the store. The store feels more like a good friend’s family room than a retail place. Evidence of children and people who love them are everywhere. The store even hosts a weekly story time for tots. “We’re focused on the really young ones, some of them too young for traditional pre-school programs,” says Koehler. “It makes for a very lively morning.”
Blue Willow also offers summer time activities for kids and even a book club for middle school age girls once a month. Blue Willow also partners with the Houston area Main Street Theater for their summer youth program. Actors from current productions drop by the store in costume and do readings from their scripts or books on which the productions are based.
However, my favorite part about Blue Willow is that it hosts two adult book clubs a month – one in the day time and another in the evening – complete with wine. What’s not to love about that? The selection of adult reading material is amble enough to keep this book lover in books for years to come.
Koehler started her bookstore career as an employee in a former version of the bookstore. When the previous owner was ready to retire she approached Koehler about buying her out. Koehler decided to do that in 1996. Her childhood spent helping her parents manage a grocery store, combined with her own experience managing a Houston restaurant, prepared her to tackle the challenges of owning and operating an independent bookstore.
“I think a sign of a good town is to have an independent book store where people can come to discuss ideas in a non-threatening place.” She started with what was already in place – children’s books – and grew it from there. “We focus on creating a fun place where children can pick out whatever books they want. We want this to be a fun place to read so kids will be excited about reading.”
Blue Willow frequently hosts the authors of books stocked on the shelves. It’s a great place for local authors to present their latest literary efforts. The store also participates in a wide variety of community events. The April calendar alone noted eighteen events. Koehler reports there were more that were private events and so not shown on the store calendar. Since the store is located on a major road that will be under a widening project for many months to come, Koehler even offers on-line updates on the project. This not only helps people determine the best route to get to the store, it also helps figure out how best to navigate this part of down. Now that’s customer service!
Blue Willow celebrates its 20th anniversary this fall. If you don’t live close enough to check it out in person, you can participate via the delightful website: www.bluewillowbookshop.com Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.