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In late 2020, many businesses were shuttered — some of which would never open again. This was also 25 years after Amazon started shipping books, putting countless bookstores out of business. Even so, the owners of Timbre Books were undaunted. They opened up their bookstore in Ventura, California, in October 2020.
Timbre does more than just sell books (although they are experts in that with a wide-ranging selection for just about every taste). They also partner with local schools, bring in authors for readings and host events like literary open mic nights. With all of these functions, Timbre outgrew its original shop and moved to a larger space this year.
How did they make all of this happen? We sat down with Megan Murai — who co-owns Timbre with her husband, Kyle — to find out.
What inspired you to open Timbre Books?
I’ve always wanted to start an indie bookstore, but always thought it was a pipe dream or something I’d do later in life. Whenever my husband Kyle and I travel, we seek out independent bookstores and love seeing the ways they reflect their communities.
When the pandemic hit I had just finished up my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. I was doing some freelance writing work, bartending at a local brewery (Topa Topa Brewing Co.), and trying to figure out where I fit in the writing and literary world. My husband Kyle and I were getting coffee at a local coffee shop, Singing Sun, and while we waited we peeked in the vacant space next door. Kyle mentioned it would be the perfect spot for a bookstore.
After that, we couldn’t stop thinking about it so we inquired about the space and started looking into what it would take to open an indie bookstore. Everything kind of snowballed from there and next thing we knew, we were signing a lease and researching thousands of books, deciding what to stock in our shop.
Did you face any challenges in opening initially?
We opened in October of 2020 when most things were shut down and people were staying indoors. It felt risky to open a brick-and-mortar at that time because we had no idea how long everything would remain locked down or what the future held for in-person retail.
Another challenge was our lack of knowledge and experience in bookselling. We had to learn everything, starting with where to purchase books for the shop. Thankfully, we found an amazing community of booksellers with a deep well of industry knowledge in the American Booksellers Association.
Of course, there is also the ever present challenge of Amazon. The reality is: we can’t compete with their pricing or their same-day delivery. But we did believe that our community understands the value of supporting local businesses and valued what an indie bookstore can bring to their community enough to rally behind us. And they did! Far beyond what we expected. Our community is the reason we exist and we are so grateful for all the support we’ve received.
How did you fund Timbre in the beginning?
TImbre Books was funded initially by personal investment and a small number of family investors. We also did a short fundraising campaign right before we opened to give us an extra push to offer more books and get the shop ready to open.
We also applied for and received a small business grant from the city (of Ventura) which was really helpful when we were first starting out. There are tons of grants out there, some very specific to certain industries or applicants and I think it’s worth looking into grants as an option for funding.
What successes did you see early on?
Our community has been supportive of us even before we opened the shop. They rallied behind us and have shaped so much of what Timbre Books has become.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you engage with your community?
Community is the foundation of our bookshop. We engage with our community through events in the shop with local and touring authors as well as literary open mic events and social events like Sunday Spins (our bookseller Alex DJs a fun set in the shop one Sunday a month while people hang out and peruse).
We also partner with local schools and educators offering educator discounts and fundraisers for schools. We are a One Percent for the Planet business member which means we donate 1 percent of our annual sales to local environmental nonprofits.
Our collection of books is reflective of our community’s interests and we work hard to be welcoming to everyone who walks through the door, whether they are local or visiting, an avid reader or picking up a book for the first time.
What motivated you to move to your new location?
We reached a point where we kind of outgrew our original location. We wanted to offer more books, expand some genres, as well as grow certain aspects of our business like our events program and our relationships with local schools. A bigger space was necessary to work toward those goals.
Plus, we wanted to be able to grow our bookselling team and to do that would need to sell more books. We anticipated that book sales would scale with a bigger space. Now we can host more events able to accommodate more attendees and have the bookselling staff to work with schools and manage the shop.
What are some of your biggest challenges right now?
Our biggest challenge right now is choosing what areas to focus on in terms of growing the business. We have so many ideas we are excited about and it’s difficult to decide where to start and which ones to focus on. Our team is still pretty small so we have to decide where to focus our time and effort.
What successes are you celebrating right now?
We just hired two new employees, which feels like a really big success. They will be a huge help with organizing and planning events, helping reach out to schools, as well as diversifying and maintaining a well-curated collection of books in the shop.
We have also started partnering with local schools to bring authors and their books to schools, as well as book fairs. It’s exciting to support local educators by helping them get books into the hands of their students.
Do you plan to participate in Small Business Saturday? If so, what do you have planned?
Yes! We will have a booth at the Finding’s Market outdoor Holiday Market in downtown Ventura and the shop will be open as well. Participation in Small Business Saturday for us also looks like promoting and standing hand in hand with other local small businesses to spread the word to shop local.
Is there anything else you want people to know about Timbre Books?
Just that supporting small businesses goes such a long way! Not only are you supporting businesses in your local community that are hopefully positively impacting the culture and diversity of your community, but also, the money you spend there directly benefits your community in one way or another, maybe by providing jobs, or donations and support to community programs, or many other ways. We cannot thank our community enough for valuing small businesses! It makes all the difference when you choose to shop local.