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Meet Megan Wells of The Willow Bookstore

Today we’d like to introduce you to Megan Wells.

Hi Megan, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
As I left an Architectural Drafting job and started a family, I realized I wanted to do meaningful work. I worked as a special ed para in Detroit Lakes while I finished an Education degree online in 2014 and started applying for jobs in my hometown of Perham. I ended up being turned down multiple times due to “not having the experience,” so I started substituting but realized that I did not like my work day’s chaotic, last-minute scheduling. I had to analyze what I wanted my life to look like and it was something I would enjoy. I had 4 kids at this time and wanted to do something meaningful and incorporate them. They all loved books at bedtime, and when my oldest started losing interest in reading, I researched what to do, and him picking out his books would be best to get his interest up. The closest store for him to do this was an hour away, and that’s when I realized I wanted to help kids find books of interest closer to home. From there, word got around, and our current used bookstore owner was retiring, and things fell into place. It was hard work, but every door flew open for it to happen. I was able to attend a retreat on how to open a bookstore in Florida in February and opened the store in November of 2018. The store has been a success and is supported by amazing customers, and I get to talk books daily with people who love reading! I have attended book conferences (where I met Kobe, James Patterson, Jason Reynolds, Jon Cena, Jonathan Van Ness, and many other famous authors and actors) and enjoy the book community. They are such great, caring people who truly do amazing work. I want to continue to be a part of the book world in some capacity for wherever life takes me next (the bookstore is not a forever job for me).

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Aside from some small struggles, it has been a clear path taking this road. I did not experience such “door-slamming” rejections as when trying to attain a teaching job. Since opening, the indie bookstores have had such an amazing support system from other bookstores, publishers, authors, and our audiobook partners at Libro.FM, Bookshop.org (an online platform to compete against Amazon), the American Booksellers Association, and regional associations. If we need anything, we have someone to turn to for help. I had help from my family on remodeling the building and watching my kids so I could be at the store getting this ready and running it as an only employee for a while. Some challenges we are all facing are Covid, inflation, etc. We are all affected by these, and I won’t try to think I am unique in dealing with these challenges.

As you know, we’re big fans of The Willow Bookstore. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about the brand?
I own an independent bookstore that sells all genres of books for all ages and bookish gifts. I added a coffee shop inside for the customers to enjoy while browsing the shelves. We have shelf-talkers, which are little note cards that a customer or staff member has written their thoughts on the book presented on the shelf so you can read what a person who has read the book thinks about it. There is a stigma about romance books, graphic novels, or audiobooks not being real reading, but we shouldn’t shame people for what they read because the point is to enjoy it! I LOVE romance books, so I am a big fan of HEA (happily ever afters), which I read for escapism – aka escaping reality.

My business mission statement is:
“The Willow is a place that promotes well-being and connection. We celebrate everyday life through the love of books. Space where the pressure is off to be anybody but yourself.”

It was always important to be a welcoming space from the beginning, but part of the book world has opened my eyes to issues I was unaware of growing up in the rural midwest. Books are an excellent tool for education. It is important to understand personal experiences and points of view to show the necessary support. I have prioritized reading books that help me better understand the fight and how to use privilege to be an ally. Now my focus has been not only on creating a safe public space through my bookstore for residents in our rural area. To be themselves and feel welcomed but raise awareness through the prominent placement and display of my curated book collection, social media, staff, and other in-store displays. With help from the book community (ABA, publishers, and other booksellers) through sharing ideas and signage, I can display and promote antiracism and inclusion and support the LGBTQIA+ community every day in the storefront displays of my bookstore in the heart of my small town’s Mainstreet.

We all have a different way of looking at and defining success. How do you define success?
To me, success is not about money. It isn’t even really based on always being happy. I think being successful for me is balance. You’ll have bad days, but balance those out with something joyful. Writing a joy list of 50+ things, big and small, that bring me joy gives me an opportunity every day to be happy. It can be as simple as the first sip of coffee but choosing to be mindful and present for it creates gratitude for that moment. It helps even out the stress.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
All from my personal cell phone.

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