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Mrs. Nelson’s bookstore houses big dreams

Caitlin Ek’s job at Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop is to stock the shelves and make sure that everything is in order. The store, at the corners of Damien and Bonita avenue in La Verne, carries a variety of toys and books for children and teens, including picture books, graphic novels and young adult novels. It also hosts readings by authors and story time for children. / photo by Danielle Navarro

Julian Burrell
Associate Editor

In a market dominated by Barnes & Noble and Amazon, it is easy for a bookseller like Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop to fly under the radar of book lovers.

However, that has not stopped the store from energizing local readers and their families.

From the front entrance it is apparent that Mrs. Nelson’s is a haven for books and those who love them. The bright atmosphere compliments the books and toys that adorn the shelves. The laughter of children radiates throughout the building as they read and play. Customers have stimulating conversations with the employees about what are their favorite new releases.

All of these qualities make it clear that Mrs. Nelson’s is beyond simply selling books; the store works to celebrate the culture of books as well.

“It’s so easy to go online and buy (books) with no human interaction,” said Andrea Vuleta, manager of day-to-day operations at Mrs. Nelson’s. “We try to offer (…) not necessarily a product, but an experience.”

Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop opened its doors in 1985 in Covina before moving to La Verne, across the street from Damien High School, in 1990 with one goal in mind: to inspire young readers.

To this end, they frequently team up with local schools to hold book fairs on campus, and have constant in-store signings and panels with different writers each month. Their independent business model allows them more flexibility with these events than they would have otherwise.

“We’re really aggressive about getting books and authors in front of kids,” Vuleta said. “We try to start them young so they’ll stay readers for a long time.”

Vuleta has held her position for nearly seven years, and in that time she has seen the store grow from a meager book store working to get noticed in a crowded market to a popular center that reaches out to schools and readers with an unabashed passion for literature.

“Authors are rock stars to kids. I’ve seen a 17-year-old break down and start crying whenever they get to meet one of their favorite authors,” Vuleta said.

“We want to show kids the magic that goes on between readers and books can continue to grow when they share that magic with the people who wrote the books.”

“I love having story time with the kids in the store,” Cristina Melgar, a Mrs. Nelson’s employee, said. “They get so excited. Interacting with them is probably my favorite part of working here.”

The employees of Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop are an integral part of preserving the personal environment of the store. All staff members frequently recommend their favorite new releases in an effort to get less popular authors more exposure.

“A lot of our best sellers are not the best sellers at Barnes & Noble,” Vuleta said. “If we didn’t have staff recommendations there would be an awful lot of authors that would be neglected.”

“I love being around the environment of books,” Caitlin Ek, a Mrs. Nelson’s employee, said. “I’ve seen kids grow up here. It’s not just a job; I’m proud of the work we do here.”

“I appreciate the warmth of (the store’s) environment,” Beverly Burns, a Mrs. Nelson’s employee, said. “I get to make new friends here every day. I would love to see more people start coming.”

As much as Mrs. Nelson’s has grown in the years since it has moved to La Verne, those involved in the store remain ambitious about expanding it even further.

“I would like Mrs. Nelson’s to become, in effect, a community center,” Vuleta said. “We try to appeal to a broad range of customers. Hopefully people see us as a place to fulfill their book needs.”

Julian Burrell can be reached at julian.burrell@laverne.edu.

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