In a world where many independently owned and operated bookstores are closing their doors, Let's Play Books! in Emmaus aims to buck the trend.
The shop, which sells approximately 1,000 youth-oriented books (about 850 separate titles), opened Dec. 5 at 379 Main St., at the former Cottage gift store space on Emmaus' triangle. It features a cozy atmosphere, complete with repurposed furniture, a fireplace and two caged mice, Despereaux and Princess Pea.
"People have to understand that if they want a small-town, local bookstore in their community, they have to support it," owner Kirsten Hess said. "I'm hoping they will. I think they will."
Hess views her store's focus on "selling children's books in an intimate setting" to be a distinct advantage over national chains that are often "overwhelming and impersonal." She also labels the business' wide spectrum of children's literacy programs as a unique component.
By the time of Let's Play Books!' grand opening on Feb. 1, Hess hopes to have established a regular lineup of author readings, book clubs, illustrator sessions, letter-writing workshops and reader theatres (where children act out roles).
"The goal is to showcase reading as a fun activity, rather than a chore," Hess said. "There are no rules here and definitely no 'shooshing.' Kids can be loud and goofy because I'm loud and goofy."
Hess, who moved from Connecticut to Lower Macungie Township in August, is a former marketing and events director for Connecticut-based bookseller R.J. Julia. She traces her desire to open a children's bookstore back to her 9-year-old daughter Madeleine's life-threatening food allergies.
"I wanted to know everything about it, so I read lots of books and shared what I learned with family, friends — anyone who would listen," she said. "People don't understand what they don't know. And books can open up entire worlds we never knew existed, whether it's a new challenge, location, culture, group of people — anything. If we get kids reading when they're young, they're more likely to be tolerant of all those different types of people around them."
Hess, who intends to donate 25 percent of proceeds to a yet-to-be-determined children's literacy organization, also plans to introduce a local author consignment program where area authors are given a platform to sell their self-published literature. She hopes to add at least 500 additional books to the store's inventory, but is waiting until she gets to know the community's wants first.
One satisfied customer, Lyn Frontino of Emmaus, can't wait to see what the shop's future holds.
"The borough definitely needed this," she said while returning a book that her 9-year-old grandson, Dominic Ortiz of Coplay, had already read. "It's quaint, orderly and meticulously clean. There's also the programming and one-on-one attention that you rarely find at bigger bookstores. Any child would go crazy in here."
Let's Play Books!, which also sells "food allergy-friendly" snacks, is open Wednesday through Sunday. Info: 610-928-8600 or letsplaybooks.com.
Just a few doors down from Let's Play Books!, South Mountain Cycle & Cafe is planning to move from its current location at 303 Main St. (below Armetta's Italian Restaurant and Pub) to 337 Chestnut St. (former Quaker Maid Kitchen and Bath space) by the beginning of March.
The full-service bike shop and coffee bar, which opened in 2004, has outgrown its space, said sales and service manager Mark Taylor of Emmaus. Its new location will feature expanded merchandise and dining space.
Owned and operated by husband and wife Chad and Heather Balliet of Emmaus, the business repairs all bicycle makes and models and sells everything from children's bikes to top-of-the-line racing bikes. Major brands include Cannondale, Giant and Jamis.
Cafe offerings include organic coffee, cappuccino, espressos, hot chocolate, lattes, smoothies, tea and baked goods. Info: 610-967-4490 or South Mountain Cycle & Cafe on Facebook.
There is definitely no shortage of business activity in Emmaus as two other businesses also have taken root in the borough.
First, Sweet Valley Cupcakes opened Nov. 30 at 412 Chestnut St., the former space of Blind Willow Book Shop.
Husband and wife owners Ryan and Michelle Chew of Macungie sell "made fresh daily" cupcakes, including unique flavors such as lavender earl grey, salted caramel and Snickerdoodle, as well as cookies, custom cakes, homemade Pop-Tarts and Bucks County Coffee Co. coffee. They plan to bring in dining furniture and offer free Wi-Fi in the coming weeks.
Customers are advised to check the business' Facebook page before stopping by as hours vary Tuesday through Saturday. Info: 610-421-8600 or sweetvalleycupcakes.com.