Ever since moving back to Saint John in 2009 Sheherazade Books & Music was one of those little uptown gems that I loved to visit on the regular. It's warm and inviting and Teresa has such a fantastic selection of books that sometimes I get a little overwhelmed (in the best possible way!)
I was so pleased that Teresa agreed to be part of these blog series because I knew she would a) look fantastic in some of our dresses and b) would be a great interviewee, and you know what? I was right!
1. Tell me a little about yourself.
I'm originally from Cape Breton Island. I arrived in Saint John in '93 after 4 years at Mt A University. I was in the travel industry for about 12 years, working for a couple of wonderful companies in the city, but when the opportunity arose in '07 to buy a used book & music shop that had been established in the city about a year and a half earlier, I couldn't resist.
2. Scheherazade has been established for almost 8 years now, what is the biggest thing you’ve learned along the way? What would be the #1 piece of advice you’d give to a new business starting out.
The biggest lesson in the last 8 years has been that if I was going to own my own business, I was going to have to do a lot of things that I wasn't naturally good at. You have to do every job that would normally be filled by a range of people with a range of skill sets. And it all matters. Ignore aspects of your business at your own peril That's a great piece of advice, but this is actually the one that I'd want budding entrepreneurs to take away: know what YOU want to get out of YOUR business. Measure your success against that and NOT against what other people are doing.
3. If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have 5 books, what would those 5 books be?
1) Virgins - Caryl Rivers (never heard of it? I'm not surprised. It's only one of two books of fiction by this author. It's my favorite book. I own 5 copies and you can't borrow any of them)
We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver (told from the fictional perspective of the mother of a high school shooter - if I'm still thinking about and arguing with this book 6 years after I read it, it should kill some time on the island.)
3) Moll Flanders - Daniel Defoe (because for the rest of my days I will remember my deeply conservative grade 12 English teacher rolling the word "whore" on her tongue as if it were a delectable confection. Plus Moll is just good fun!)
4) Something I've never read by Paul Quarrington (I've read King Leary and The Ravine. Mr Quarrington passed away in 2010 so I'm trying to spread out the remainder of his books for maximum enjoyment. His books make me laugh. Like LOL laugh. And that's no easy feat!)
5) How to Survive on a Deserted Island by Tim O'Shei (I've never read this one but since I'm not even fond of camping, I suspect I'd need it)
4. Owning a second hand book store is actually one of the things I used to dream about…I just loved the idea of being surrounded by all those beautiful words and stories and getting to talk to people about that (and I, possibly, strangely love the smell of old books). What drew you to this business? What are the little things that make the not-always glamorous life of an entrepreneur worth it for you?
When anyone asked me what I wanted to be, I'd respond that I wanted to own a used bookstore. No idea why. Up until my early 20s, I'd never actually been in one. But there it was. It may have been a combination of loving books and loving reading. But it wasn't until I was actually doing it that I understood the draw. I love to BUY books. Nothing is more satisfying than finding a book that "Jim" is going to be so excited about, or that "Julie" specifically asked me for, or that "David" wanted to give as a gift. One of my lovely customers once described the shop as "curated" and I so appreciated that description. Buying books for lots of people is a lot more fun for me than just buying for myself. And I'm good at it. And that's what makes it worth the challenges. Getting to do what you're good at.
5. Have you ever considered writing a book of your own? If you ever do, I call first dibs!
I have a book in me. I suspect everyone does. One story that they'd like to tell. As the years go by I feel less inclined to write it. I have a few customers who are published authors and their stories of the publishing world is like seeing the workings of Disney World - it steals the magic.
6. What are you reading right now?
I'm reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I was halfway through listening to it on Audiobook when someone wanted to buy it. So I sold it and started over with a paperback. How's THAT for customer service?!?! I've got the Audiobook of Game of Thrones tucked away for an overseas flight I have coming up!
7. Have you always carried music in the store? What made you decide to combine books and music besides the fact that it’s an awesome combo? I noticed last time I was in that there were some very usual albums in there (All In The Family is coming to mind) What is the strangest record that’s come through the door?
Well this is where I confess that "me" is actually "we". While I, Teresa, tend to be the face of Scheherazade Books & Music, my partner Michael is the one who makes the music possible. You'll see him at the counter every second Saturday and if you like our music selection, that's all him. And if you don't like our music selection, well it's still all him! It was the previous owners who set the shop up as a book & music combo. We think it's a very complimentary pairing. Since I mainly take care of the books and Michael takes care of the music we usually end the day with a discussion about who "won" in terms of sales.
I asked Michael to comment on strangest record stories and this is his feedback:
1. I was tickled when a copy of The Faces' Ooh La la walked into the shop. It's a fun 70's rock'n'roll album, but that's not what makes it strange; what makes it strange is the cover: you squeeze the thing and this top hat-wearing English guy's eyes roll about in his head and he smiles at you like some sort of crazy stand-up comedienne by day/serial killer by night! The record didn't make it onto the shelves, it went straight into the permanent archives at home.
2. Sometimes it's not so much a specific record that's strange, as where it's found. For instance, when you're going through a box of used record and find a copy of Iron Maiden's Powerslave sandwiched in between a dozen or so Walt Disney soundtracks, you have to wonder how that happened?
8. If you could be any character in any book who would it be?
A lot of people identify with a character or characters when they read and they actually feel the story happening to them. I'm more of a voyeur when I'm reading. I like or dislike characters but I see them as completely separate from myself. Just as in real life, I'd be unlikely to want someone else's life. I'm pretty fond of my own. But in the spirit of actually answering the question I pick Lucy Pevensie from C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I left it off my list of books for the deserted island but since I was just kidding about the "How to Survive..." book, can I take the entire Narnia boxed set instead?
9. What do you see for the future of Scheherazade? Having a business in the uptown area for almost 8 years, you've seen the area change and grow, what do you hope to see in the future of Uptown Saint John?
By the time another 5 years has passed, I'd love to have accomplished one main thing. To have convinced every single person in Saint John and the surrounding area to "check with me first". You never know what I'll have in the shop and one quick phone call or a zippy pop in could accomplish two things: 1) you bought the book you wanted in gently used condition at a fraction of the original cost and 2) you supported local. Yay! We both win.
In the time that I've had the shop, the businesses around me seem to come and go with some gaining a more secure foothold in the uptown. I'd love to see more unique, independent businesses on the streets. The city doesn't need more chains, either in restaurants or stores, it needs more of the individuality and energy that comes from the vision and passion of someone personally invested in this city. And I've love to see the community continue to support those independents. You don't have to look any further than the success of the Queen Square Farmer's Market to see what the vibrancy of local can look like.
10. Are you guilty of judging books by their covers? I ask because I totally am. I swear I've bought books without even reading the synopsis based on the cover art alone
For the shop, yes, most definitely. When I'm somewhere buying 300 + books I make a lot of decisions based on covers and titles. You just know that from a pile of books that Oh, Vulgar Wind: A Sympathetic Overview of the Common Fart is coming home with me! For myself, not necessarily. The right book calls to me at the right time.
11. Anything else you’d like to add??
A couple of things:
1) Thank you Saint John (and Fredericton and Moncton and all who find their way to the shop) for supporting this little used book & music shop for the last 9 years. In November, we moved the shop a few doors down Prince William (we needed to be closer to the coffee and cupcakes) and we're now settling in and looking forward to the busy seasons ahead.
2) Thank you Pam for inviting me to participate and to Alicia for the photography and doing my makeup for the shoot. Not only was the experience a lot of fun, it highlights an important part of my experience as an uptown business owner. Customers are always a little surprised when I suggest they try finding a book they are looking for at Dave Shoots Bookseller on Coburg or Loyalist on Germain. Or if I don't have the record or CD they want, I'll send them off to Gordie at Backstreet Records or the guys at Secondspin. The support I've received from other small businesses in the city has been vital to the shop's success and I want them to feel that they've got my support as well.
**As always a huge tanks to Alicia Robichaud Photography for taking these wonderful photos!! All outfits are available at Heartbreak Boutique!**