Friday, 2 March 2012

Bookshop Spotlight #2 Constellation Books

This is the second Bookshop Spotlight blog post. (#1 is over here.) These posts are about showcasing bookshops all over the world and celebrating their wonderfulness.

I'd like to welcome Lauretta, owner of Constellation Books in Maryland, USA. She's going to tell us about her bookshop. WARNING: Reading this blog post will make you want to go and steal/live in/work at her bookshop.


Constellation Books: the starbirth.

"I moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1989 to work on the Hubble Space Telescope (Jen: Can we just pause and take in the amazingness of that sentence? I don't think many bookshops begin that way. Ah.). By the early 2000s, I had survived  5 layoffs and watched the U.S. space research budget reduce and reduce - and I thought: 'You should Make Plans. What else have you got besides Astronomy, music and computer skills? Well, you can recommend books to people.You have read everything since forever and people are pretty happy with your book suggestions.' So I did my research and buffed up on business in general and book business in particular. I looked at neighborhoods - Baltimore has great, funky, historic neighborhoods. I looked at banks and real estate costs. I saved roughly half my salary for about 4 years. I bought shelves and stock from a bookstore going under and stored it in a storage unit (promising myself it would not be for more than a year.) I wanted to BE PREPARED when I got my pink slip.

"Then it happened - a great old farmhouse-style building dating back to the late-1700s became available at a sweet deal on rent. I thought, "I can survive that! I guess I'm quitting my job." It was in a lovely historic district just northwest of Baltimore, set amongst antique shops and funky boutiques and a great indie coffee shop. Renovations, unpacking the initial book order and finding comfortable spacing on the shelves took about a month and we opened in May 2007.


"2007 was the Year of Harry Potter - at least the last book - and we had a blast with the midnight release party. I had customers working alongside staff: a physics professor was helping kids dip cups of lemonade into liquid nitrogen for Potions Class, plus one of my friends setup a telescope on the front sidewalk for moon and star viewing. (Jen: See, I told you. You want to be there, don't you?)

"Over the years, we have had great success with monthly wine or beer tastings - complete with pizza from the local pizza place. We also support local authors with writing groups and signings and book release parties. We have supported local private schools with in-store Book Fairs. I want to do the same with the Home Schooling Moms but picking a good month/date is hard. Last weekend, my author brought her fiddle (it was a children's book about a youth orchestra musician) and jammed with one of the customers - to the delight of the other customers. I am selling/educating about eBook sales at the Random House Book Fair this coming weekend and we have both a local author AND a folk musician St. Patrick's Day weekend. Of course, we provide tea/coffee and cookies at these!

"Over the years, my staff have gone on to other jobs or moved home to Australia and I have waited for the economy to bounce back before I hire anyone more. They still will drop by or email me a book suggestion - and I get lots of suggestions from the regular customers too. A special order will sometimes highlight a need in the community and I am happy to order the books they need.  Because the shop is only 900 sq. ft. and about 6,000 books, I do special order early and often.

"I adore it when someone comes in and says, "I am out of reading material and need a suggestion" (aka Last Hurricane's Power Outage) or "I want to buy a book for my grandson/niece/teacher/student." I ask some questions about what the reader likes and what they're into and soon the customer is clutching about 5 books. Then I back off and let them think about it, and say, "Let me know if you need more..."

"Our perennial bestseller is a book about Reisterstown published by Arcadia Publishing in their Images of America series. I have had folks buy copies because their great-aunt or their old home or the volunteer-firefighter-that-great-granddad-worked-with were in the photos. This book was highly anticipated - I had folks calling about A book, ANY book, on Reisterstown each Christmas until it came through. Fortunately, knowing the author, I could tell the customers it was on its way and when the pub. date was predicted.

"People often ask me my favorite books or sections and it's really hard to answer because I like all sorts. Right now, I'm raving about KING PEGGY because she was such a trip on her radio interviews. There are a lot of new cozy mysteries out too that my customers and I are drooling over. I just got back from selling books at a Star Trek convention, where Eastern Shore author Kelly Meding's urban fantasy stories were justifiably gobbled up. [Oh - that's the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.] Classics are always great generation-bridgers - getting a conversation going with the Twilight fans about Heathcliff v. Edward is always fun.

"I am having so, so much fun I hope I can stay here forever or at least until the economy recovers! Selling eBooks will help bridge into the new century, though I do not believe 'dead tree editions' will ever go away. Humanity is One Good Power Outage away from COMPLETE reliance on eReaders. Of course, those of us who read in the tub will always want the 'dead tree edition' books!"

Constellation Books 303 Main Street, Reisterstown, MD 21136 USA


(if you are a bookseller and you'd like your bookshop to be part of the Bookshop Spotlights, then drop me an email)


  1. Thank you, Jen, for spotlighting this wonderful bookstore! And thank you, Lauretta, for the shout-out! :)

  2. Yes, I want to go/live there! What a fantastic shop. Love the astronomy angle - and I want to know more about Lauretta's work on Hubble. I'm sure she won't mind if a poor, bedraggled writer moves in.

  3. Oh wonderful - I am in Baltimore and didn't know this place at all! Good thing I'm reading the website for a bookstore far far away, so I can learn about a bookstore near near anear...:) Thanks! (@badcushion on twitter)

  4. I really miss this bookstore! I used to go to Constellation Books a lot, before they closed....