THE MARKET STREET BOOK CLUB
Ever since Jack and Gemma Buckley turned the page and closed the book on their careers as owners of the Ninth Street Book Shop, optimistic bibliophiles have held out hopes for a twist ending, a white knight, or any bit of miracle and wonder that would create an epilogue with store reopening under new management.
Now, an unexpected new chapter begins. David Teague and Roger Festa, the professor and the entrepreneur, are dipping their toes into waters largely controlled by (as David puts it) “a river in South America.” The Market Street Book Club is open and running online. Subscribers choose from a carefully curated selection of books every month. It’s the first digital step in a project that both men hope will one day evolve into a brick-and-mortar operation. We sat down with the two over a few brews at Coffee Mode to see how their story is progressing…
David: I've lived in this community for 26 years, writing, reading, teaching literature at the University of Delaware. My wife, Marisa de los Santos, is a novelist. I think there was a thought that we might be a couple that was interested in running a bookstore.
Roger: I'm from Atlantic City. After I graduated school, I went back there to open up a magic shop. Long, long hours. I wanted to find something that was more “niche-y” and more “pop-y”, so I opened up a fancy sock store. At one point, we had three locations – we were in Christiana Mall for a little bit – before we pulled back to focus on digital marketing. But my wife and I fell in love with Wilmington, we fell in love with a church around here, and we wanted to stick around. And we were always looking for an opportunity to be involved locally in business.
David: Jack and Gemma introduced us. Roger's the entrepreneur. The books and the people and the readers … that part of it is me. The brains behind the operation – the marketing, the digital innovations, the good sense when it comes to evaluating locations and foot traffic and the nitty-gritty of entrepreneurialism – that’s not my skill set.
Roger: We stripped away everything and asked, well, what was everyone's favorite part of the bookshop? What did they really, really want to see? And people said they loved the hand-picked selections. So David and I looked at each other and thought – “Well, we can do that now.” There's no reason to wait on that. David is our chief editor. Every month, we find five or six local authors and experts to choose a book. As a member of the book of the month club, you choose one of the books from that hand-picked list. It gets packaged in a beautiful box with some extra gifts inspired by the curators and delivered to your door.
David: Jack and Gemma still make a pick. We have fiction writers like Marisa curate the fiction. We had Jack Markell introduce Sarah McBride's book. We want it to be local.
Roger: We've had people reach out and say, how can I help? How can I be supportive? The most important thing that we need right now is people who are committed to buying books. And I'm really excited by the response. It's been a slow growth, but fast enough that we’ve just recently been able to cut shipping and handling costs, because we have enough members. David: Nobody wants things to stop there. We want a bookstore, we want to be part of this bigger community, part of a local literary scene. Sure, you love books on your own, but isn’t it more fun to love books with 10 other people? That’s one of the top goals, but it needs to grow, it needs to be organic. Everyone envisions a space with chairs and libations of some sort of discussions going on.
Roger: A wine bar is in the business plan. We've turned down locations because they couldn't house it. If we're going to have evening events, if we're going to bring people in for an open mic night, they can support us by buying a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
David: We would love to have a storyteller series. We'd love to bring local schools in. I'm doing work in some schools where we do creative writing, and I'd love to publish the books that they write every semester.
Roger: We're like astronauts in rocket ships talking about what we're going to do when we get to Mars. We know it might be some time away, but, hey, what are you going to wear on Day 3 on Mars? What are we going to do when we get there?