From an entrepreneurial standpoint, you might think Salathiel Palland is fighting an uphill battle. She’s starting an independent bookstore at a time when big booksellers are struggling, people are going online to purchase books instead of going into a store and devices like the Kindle are threatening to make physical books obsolete.
Yet, she feels like she is in the right business at the right time. Her niche is Victorian Steampunk with a particular fondness for all speculative fiction. It seems Metro Detroit is a hotbed for both, especially given the size of the World Steam Expo held last May in Dearborn.
And that’s what has her friend Arica Jones certain this bookstore will work.
“The people I’ve talked to so far have said, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s something for us. There’s an environment for us to be in. There’s someplace beautiful and enriching and positive right around the corner in Farmington,’” gushed Jones.
That community has been enhanced by the presence of social media. It has allowed enthusiasts to share experiences regardless of physical boundaries, which has been great for building the community. Yet even a strong virtual community needs a gathering place according to Steampunk enthusiast Diane Perry.
“Consider that this Steampunk genre has benefited so greatly from social media and how Generation Xers are taking it on; that’s really how we communicate,” said Perry. “You’re able now to go someplace and have this incredible, interactive experience that takes you away from that reliance on the technology. The store is one of those places where you can bring everyone together and see it all happen.”
While Palland has yet to open her doors, starting a bookstore has been an eye opening experience. She discovered the process to get a license to sell tea was fairly complicated and time consuming. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to starting this business was finding a location for the store, so her advice to would-be business owners is look at several options.
“When you are looking at locations, look at a bunch. Don’t just put your hopes on one location,” implores Palland. “Give yourself plenty of time to find a place and give yourself plenty of time to get funding.”
She speaks from experience. After finding the perfect location in downtown Farmington, she had her plans drawn up and was ready to execute them. That’s when she found out the building owner was hoping to sell the building instead of lease it, and she landed back at square one.
While she was lamenting the loss of the perfect location to a friend, Ginger Wiechers, owner of Ginger’s Cafe and Gormet Shoppe, overheard them and offered a spot in a building she owned. That chance conversation has allowed Palland to keep her goal of opening in October.
Going through traditional means to get a her bookstore funded was not a possibility either. She has turned to Kickstarter to get the final funding she needs to open her store.
“Kickstarter has been a great forum to put your project out there,” she says. “It’s been funny. I’ve had more people say to me they didn’t know I was doing this and they have been pledging on Kickstarter.”
One thing that is certain about this Victorian Steampunk bookstore. It’s going to be unlike any other bookstore you have been in. Sunday nights will be story nights so kids can come in their pajamas and hear a bedtime story. The coffee that will be served comes from a monastery in Wyoming and the tea suppliers Palland found also supply Buckingham Palace. She’s even planning a zombie walk for Halloween to celebrate her new store.
Part of the Steampunk ethos is about creating experiences that harken back to an earlier time, a time of formal manners, polite discourse and creativity: a time when an idea like Palland’s is just outrageous enough to work.