Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What we learned from our listening session

A big huge thank you to all the customers who came out Tuesday night to our 20th Anniversary kick-off/listening session. It was a great success. We learned a lot about what you love about Water Street, what you didn't know that we already do (we give a 20% discount for book groups--just ask!), and what you want us to do moving forward. We got some great ideas (kids' birthday parties in the store! customers annotating books on our website! more books in translation!) and some fantastic energy and enthusiasm for new projects. A few ideas:

1. Volunteer effort through Water Street Bookstore into the local schools to encourage reading. After a customer asked about what we are doing to energize the schools to promote reading, Dan talked about the 10 years he spent reading to 2nd graders once a week at Kensington Elementary. Though he has since stopped doing it, to focus more of his time in the store, he agreed that the store is a natural facilitator for a literacy project like this. Promoting reading grows readers, who support the store with their families and help to create a more educated citizenry-- good things all around. Several people spoke up to say that they are retired and would love to volunteer. Stay tuned (though in the meantime, Rockingham Community Action has a great literacy volunteer program, too).

2. "Exeter Reads." Lesley Haslam, director of adult education at Exeter Adult Ed, shared about "Dover Reads," a town-wide initiative to encourage everyone to read the same book and discuss, like a giant book group. Many cities and towns across America have successfully run these programs and Exeter seems like a perfect fit.

3. Help Exeter residents become more engaged in town politics. When Jill Sweeney-Bosa asked if the changes to Swasey Parkway and Water Street (both are becoming one-way streets to protect damaged culverts) would affect downtown businesses, many people spoke up with frustration at the lack of resident participation in the recent town election (in which a warrant article to fix the culverts did not pass, among others). As a community center for Exeter residents, making Water Street a forum for discussion and education about issues discussed at deliberative sessions and articles on the ballot seems like a perfect fit. It wouldn't be a matter of pointing people in one direction or the other-- increasing resident participation would be the goal.

4. You want to hear what ideas we have percolating. Jane Bernhardt asked what new initiatives and ideas we're working on. Though we had run out of time, we agreed that pitching our ideas to our customers in a town-hall style forum like Tuesday night's is a great idea. We are already hard at work on a list of ideas and programs to pitch in the coming months. Stay tuned.

One last note: We meant to talk about a few little things that our customers can do to help us stick around for another 20 years, but we ran out of time. Here are a few:

1. Come to our events! The more people who come to the events, the more events we can do with authors you're interested in. Once we prove to the publishers that we can draw big audiences, they'll start sending us more and more great authors.

2. Forward on our newsletter. Help us spread the word!

3. Order your book group books through us. We'll get them in, set them aside, and give you a 20% discount. Good deal!

4. Tell your kids' educators and other parents that we offer a 15% discount on books for the classroom (15% off books for any public place--libraries, waiting rooms, churches, etc).

5. Bring a bag. We'll always offer bags, but this is one of those little things that you can do to help us keep operations costs down.

6. Support your downtown businesses. We've got it all in Exeter-- gift shops, toy stores, candy stores, wine shops, clothing boutiques, book stores, sports/hiking equipment shops, jewelry stores, florists, a copy & design shop, antique stores and great restaurants. A healthy vibrant downtown is good for everyone! Thanks again for coming out to support us on Tuesday night. And stay posted for more 20th Anniversary events throughout the year.

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