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Amongst family and friends, Ellen Cappard is known as “the book whisperer.”
“Everybody calls me when they need a book,” Cappard said. “I read everything.”
With the recent opening of Books & Bagels on Wilmington’s West Side, Cappard is bringing her superpower to the public. The shop held a soft opening at the start of September and, since then, has quietly been making inroads in the community.
Launching a neighborhood spot
Prior to moving to Wilmington, Cappard spent about a decade in Washington, D.C., a city filled with neighborhood bookshops. Wilmington, meanwhile, was without a city bookshop for three years. Cappard had always nurtured “this little seed of an idea” to open one, and felt at home in libraries or surrounded by books. Now, she saw a need.
An experienced graphic designer and marketing professional, Cappard has also worked in education and is a full-time caregiver for her young daughter. The pandemic shook up both her personal and professional lives, but she found herself getting closer to her longtime idea by signing up for an entrepreneurship program through the West Side Grows Together neighborhood coalition. When commercial space tucked into the West Side’s residential area opened up, one of her business coaches called. Where was she with launching her business plan?
“I do word maps all the time and I just thought about all the things I wanted Books & Bagels to be,” Cappard recalled, listing out words and phrases like, “community and gather,” “good tea,” “agape,” and “neighborhood spot.”
In addition to books, the shop also features local vendors Charlie Rose Sweets and Silver Stem Plants. Patrons can generally find something sweet to eat or enjoy a cup of tea, but Cappard tends to reserve the bagels for weekends and special occasions.
A ‘curated selection’
Cappard describes her shop as having a “curated selection” that carries about 500 different titles, spanning genres and reading levels. She tries not to carry too many of any one book but will reorder titles that prove to be popular. James Baldwin’s Nothing Personal was one such hit. A recent favorite of Cappard’s was the children's book Breathe with Me by Mariam Gates.
Conversations with patrons have led her to explore different authors, from South Carolina-based thriller writer Shana Hannibal to Israeli poet David Grossman, and invite authors to visit. She is hoping for further growth as the shop puts down roots and expands to host larger events, as pandemic precautions and patron interest allow. Writers, artists, and community members are invited to get in touch to pitch events and make suggestions.
Exchanging reading suggestions—being a “book whisperer” for a whole new community—remains the best part of opening the shop. “This is what I've worked so hard for,” Cappard said, “To have people come in who are like, ‘I love the curation of the books.’ That just makes my heart go pitter-patter.”
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