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Joanna Parzakonis

What is your official title?

My “official” title is Owner of Bookbug.

I’m not crazy about that title. I’ve always disliked the word “owner” for its proprietary and pompous connotation and quite honestly feel increasingly that Bookbug does not belong to me as much or as truly as it belongs to this community. I don’t say that to sound lofty or idealistic; it’s a fact. This store has grown and prospered because of the incredible support granted us by our customers, the relationships we’ve nurtured with organizations, writers, and artists. So many creative and book-loving people have reached out to us and created this store as it exists today. This community has shown its pride for it and that gives them ownership of it in my book.

I therefore prefer to think of myself as the Caretaker – the obsessive and passionate Caretaker of Bookbug. So let’s go with that as my title.


What is Bookbug?

We are an independent bookstore: Kalamazoo’s full-service independent bookstore dedicated especially to curating and cultivating conversations around new books.

We started with and still have a very strong specialty in Children’s Literature and Programming, but we are growing at the fastest rate in our categories of Literary Fiction and Adult Events. The store has evolved dramatically since its founding to meet both customer demand and our own growing passion across a broad range of genres. Our inventory continues to grow on a daily basis with brand new books, but also often based on conversations I have with customers about older titles and about what it is they are enjoying themselves.


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What kind of projects are you currently working on?

Our special events are ongoing and organizing those is one of my primary responsibilities beyond all the book buying I do for the store. We host a broad range of events. including local, regional and national authors touring for new books, but we also host weekly story times and community-encouraging events, including: musical performances, crafting workshops, non-author readings and more.

Some things on the horizon in terms of programming — certainly booking nationally-supported touring authors who have books releasing in 2015. Kalamazoo is a great stop for many authors and not only because we are midway between two key markets, but because we exist as a vibrant creative cultural community ourselves, with three amazing institutions of higher education, and need I mention The Promise  and incredible investment we’ve made in the education of our community? It’s no small thing and a clear reflection of just how serious we are about cultivating creativity and curiosity in our community.

Another project of mine this year will be the launch of a Bookbug-hosted (and initiated) book club. We have offered our space to existing book clubs in the past and host regular book talks for clubs but until now, we have not organized and initiated one on our own. Stay tuned for more on that in coming months!


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

It starts with mayhem that is getting my kids ready for school and walking them there, which I enjoy no matter the weather. Then I head straight here and open the store. Usually mornings are pretty quiet, but I work best and fastest in my mornings to get writing done— newsletters, emails–too many emails–and then ordering. More books! Every Day!

Our shipments come in the afternoon and I often assist in receiving those, but often hand that task off to others more vigilant with it then I tend to be. I do try to get away from the computer in the afternoon though: to get around the store and recognize displays that look stale or shelf talkers that need refreshing.

Much of my day needs to be so flexible and open to the fact that I don’t always know what will come at me. Calls for school orders, a customer with a particularly in-depth book request, other things that are suddenly and unexpectedly important.


What is your background?

Varied, wandering and odd; there is not clear trajectory to bookselling except for my long-standing passion for books, and writing in all formats. I grew up outside of Chicago and went to school at Northwestern, which is where I met my husband (and co-owner of the store) who was from Kalamazoo — so there is part of the arc that brought us here. I lived out east for several years: in Washington D.C., where I loved my work as an advocate, and thereafter in New York, which I also adored as a home for a while.

After Nina (our first daughter) was born, Derek and I were both at a crossroads career-wise. I became increasingly focused on the possibility of opening a small business – and of a bookstore specifically. I didn’t know where it would be, but I became convinced of Kalamazoo as a place where there was need for one, and also a place where we could do it. The Promise was also announced the fall before we moved and the spirit of that bold initiative was incredibly inspiring to me (not to mention a practical benefit possible to my public-school going children). My husband, having been born and raised here, was more hesitant than me, he knew Kalamazoo in a very different way than I was getting to know it. It became funny to us that I was the one who became the cheerleader for Kalamazoo. I’m happy to say we made that move and that we’ve been here now eight years and will be celebrating Bookbug’s seventh anniversary in February.


How did the store start and where did you get your inspiration?

Inspiration came mostly from the many independent bookstores that came to feel like a home away from home to me as a young adult. As many recall, 2008 was not a year when people were saying “do it, start a business!” I had no business background or mentors and the economy wasn’t smiling at us either. Sure I did a lot of research and planning, but  the real start of the store was fueled by a crazy, insistent desire to be doing something I knew I needed to do. My nutso dream of owning a business that reflected my passion to connect good people to great books, became Bookbug.


Were there any surprises that came along with owning a the store?

One surprise was how important the out-of-store tasks and relationship-buildling would be to the bottom line of the business. When you envision any retail business you think the most important thing is the customer, the interaction, and everything else happening in the store — I expected that. What I didn’t understand was just how incredibly important the business-to-business and business-to-organization relationships would be to the store.


Who are the creative people you are connected with in Kalamazoo?

A great deal of authors and artists, for sure. I’ve been surprised and encouraged by how many people come to me with their finished or unfinished creative work. Sure, the spectrum of books being created can be wide and varied, but to be invited to be a part of that creative process is an honor and responsibility I take seriously.

We often also host events for all types of local artists and creators. As an example, on.February 7th we’ll host Jessica Aguilera and her new book Rose. We’ll also have string musicians here in April, Read and Write Kalamazoo Young Authors do their workshop reading here at the end of the summer. The list of creative spirits coming through our doors can never be too long as far as I’m concerned.


What other businesses do you have relationships with in Kalamazoo?

The schools and libraries in Kalamazoo and surrounding counties are all very important to us. We also have good relationships with the writing and English programs at Western, K College and KVCC, and organizations like KRESA and Kalamazoo Communities in Schools — they are doing fantastic work to get books into the hands of kids who may otherwise not be given books for-keeps. I never imagined the wonder and gratitude I would have at my role as a liaison between thoughtful organization and child. That anyone (but children especially) have the chance to be inspired, empowered and motivated by a great book is reason for me to be amazingly grateful for my role in bringing them together with one.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

Our connectedness. I think people who grew up here or have lived here for a long time take it a little bit for granted. I am stilled wowed by how easy it is to connect meaningfully to each other in this town and what that means to creative community here. I have lived in large metropolitan areas and I have known and respected impressive creative communities in each, but I have never felt as supported by, connected to, and invested in one, as I do here in Kalamazoo. I know I’m not alone in feeling that way, and I do love that most about our town.


What can be done to improve our beloved Kalamazoo?

There is always room for improvement, right? Paving over parts of Westnedge and West Main with huge bike paths would be a great idea and how about nurturing more locally-owned businesses in those areas too? Continuous improvement of downtown and encouraging a mentality that supports small business all over our community.

Another thing that I am not shy to say, especially to those that have lived here for a long time, is that I don’t think Kalamazoo should ever apologize for itself or feel second fiddle in any way.


How do you take your coffee?…or do you?

For sure! Tall mug, dark roast, with sugar and cinnamon. Do not forget the cinnamon!


Do you have a go-to spot in Kalamazoo?

Crane Park, I adore. I am always surprised by its beauty. It’s quiet, charming and wonderful. I also love my tiny cluttered home office with its door closed, please.


What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?

I have to give credit to my husband for the playlist in the store, but I like all types of music. Whenever The National comes up in the queue I slow down and listen — I love their sound a whole lot, but my jam list has broadened of late, influenced by a few at-home dance parties with my kids — so Pharell Williams and One Direction are now also right at the that top of my jam list.


What is next up on your reading list?

For the first time I was sent an advanced copy of a manuscript from an author that I absolutely adore and respect in so many ways. so needless to say I am excited about that. I get a lot of advanced copies, not very many manuscripts, and very few that are as connected to me as this one is. I’m also excited for Bonnie Jo Campbell’s new collection of stories expected this fall. Plus there are a handful of books that are on my stack from last year that I need to return to… one of which is an essay collection called Loitering that has the most beautiful introduction ever to be written in a book. One of the hazards of this job is that you feel compelled to read not yet released or brand new novels so that you’re ‘ahead of the curve’, so reading books that are 6 months old is almost not permissible and breaking the rules–even reading an old classic–comes with its own unique ‘playing hooky’ joy too.


When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

In third grade I wrote an essay about wanting to be the first female President of the United States and I took that quite seriously. I did have aspirations toward a political career, which is weird to me now; political leadership is not a job that I would be good at, at all.


If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid. Nobody else knows what they’re doing either.


What do you think about at the eBook/Kindle movement and have you seen an impact on your business because of that?

Not noticeable or known to our business, we do sell eBooks on our website so we’re on board with the fact that ebooks are preferred by–and needed to be offered to–a small percentage of our customers. As an industry, we have seen a tapering off and plateauing of the percentage of books being purchased in e-format, which is a good sign for print books and not at all surprising to me. We have customers that read in both ways; I read both ways, and I certainly support everyone’s ability to read efficiently and broadly. I am also an advocate for professional authors right to distribute their work in the broadest way possible, but I am not worried about print books into the future. I think book lovers and the art of publishing books is safe for many years to come.


How did you come up with the name Bookbug?

We had a long list of quirky names. Some of which were funny others of which were ridiculous and Bookbug just kept sticking with everyone. My kids, other people’s kids, people general; it was the one that just kept sticking. It makes people smile.


What is your dream for Bookbug?

To keep growing, keep being embraced by this community the way it has been, to be a safe haven for creative thought and meaningful community. We want to be a small and increasing contributing source of pride in this city and inspiration for all.


Joanna, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with Joanna and Book Bug on facebook. Also, be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.