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Meet Nicole Sullivan of BookBar in Northwest

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole Sullivan.

Nicole, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
In 2012 I got involved in an effort to save my community indie bookstore. When those efforts unfortunately failed, I decided to open my own store in the same location. I had been a stay at home mother with young children at that time and after everyone was in bed at night, I would enjoy relaxing with a book and a glass of wine. Being a stay at home mother can be socially isolating so I remember wishing there was a place where it wasn’t weird to read and sip wine in the company of others. Members of my book club had the same thought. As we all had young children then it was becoming harder to host book club meetings in our own homes but restaurants, bars, and cafes were not the best fit for book club meetings either. With that in mind, I began writing up a business plan for a bookstore wine bar. We opened in May 2013 with 1550 square feet.

In 2015 we expanded to the rest of the building, adding an additional 400 square feet for Children and Young Adult books, a ‘Reading Room,’ an outdoor garden patio (with a fire pit and veggie and herb garden for our menu), and BookBed, our author/book lover bed & breakfast above the store. Six years later we have even more plans for expansion. We recently purchased the Regis 66 building at 4890 Lowell Blvd. to serve as the headquarters for our non-profit organization, BookGive. BookGive operates much like a food bank for books. We accept donations of gently used books for distribution to other non-profit organizations in need of books. We look forward to opening to the public in early 2020.

Additionally, we have plans for a dedicated 1000 square foot event space and book art gallery where an old garage now stands in the back of our property. We anticipate a Spring 2020 opening. I am also the founder of, a website that connects readers to book clubs in their area and to their local, indie bookstore. As you can see, I’m quite obsessed with connecting people and people to books. I am determined to get more people to read more books. I truly believe that reading makes us all better.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I don’t know if operating small businesses can ever be a smooth road. We’ve definitely run into some hiccups along the way. We had some unexpected competition move onto the street in 2015 just as we were expanding our Children’s section that knocked us back a bit. We’ve had the usual maintenance and repair issues (looking at your flat roof). The biggest challenge though in running a bookstore, and probably any small retail business, is in keeping our message about the importance of shopping local front of mind with consumers. Our biggest competitors offer many of the same products that we do at a discounted price so it is our job to continuously remind our customers that shopping with us brings a literary social experience and keeps more of their dollars in our community.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the BookBar story. Tell us more about the business.
As our tag line states, we are a book shop for wine lovers and a wine bar for book shoppers. Our mission is to provide community literary space and to create and encourage more readers. We do that by offering seating throughout our store and patio where customers are more than welcome to relax with a book, host a book club meeting or simply socialize. We feel it is important for communities to have spaces like this where the emphasis is more on connecting with others than on turning tables quickly. We reserve space for book club (or any type of meeting, really), offer packages for semi-private parties, such as birthday celebrations, baby and wedding showers. We’ve even hosted a couple of bookish weddings and wedding receptions.

Our business is very events drive. We host one or more events daily, from storytimes to book launch parties, to author events. And we host six monthly BookBar book clubs for a variety of interests and ages. We are known for being creative and energetic. We definitely do things differently here and have fun with new ideas. A few years ago, we purchased a 1994 Ford ambulance turned bookmobile that we refurbished and use for markets, book fairs, and delivering book donations. Last year we added a book bike, a cargo bike created for us by Argo Cargo bikes.

We plan to do bike delivery in our neighborhood in Spring 2020. No idea is too crazy for us to at least consider. But mostly, our whipsmart, caring, creative, dedicated, passionate staff are often what keeps people coming back. We’ve all developed strong relationships with our community over the past six years and when I hear compliments about BookBar, those compliments often center around our hard-working (and hilarious) staff.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
It’s hard for me to separate luck and opportunity in my mind but perhaps it was lucky that our building just also happened to be up for sale when we embarked on this idea. And it certainly seems lucky that this opportunity presented itself in 2012 when real estate on Tennyson Street was still relatively accessible. Had we not owned our own building and bought in 2012, I’m not sure that we would have been able to survive this long. We would have undoubtedly been faced with rental increases and our expansions would have likely been limited. It is also a stroke of luck that this all came about just as my children were heading to school full time and I was starting to ask myself what would be next. Again, our stupid flat roof has been bad luck.

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