Maplewoodians felt the rare feeling of retail elation this fall when they discovered that their local independent bookstore had not closed. Better yet, it was expanding and moving to a more prominent location, filling a nagging vacancy on Maplewood Avenue.
Jonah Zimiles, the new owner of Words, formerly Goldfinch Books, is feeling the love. But not just because he has rescued Maplewood Village’s bookstore: Words also is putting out the word that children and special needs customers are welcome.
Zimiles and wife Ellen are raising two children of their own here in Maplewood: 18-year-old Liz and 13-year-old Daniel. Ever since Daniel was diagnosed with autism several years ago, the Zimiles have been very involved in the local special needs community and Words will reflect that experience.
Says Zimiles, “It’s difficult for parents to bring special needs children into stores, though most Maplewood stores are welcoming, but we want to make it a stated mission and provide job training for special needs adults down the road.”
This mission has unexpectedly garnered generous responses. Interior decorating for the shop was donated by Dana Dowd Williams of Millburn, the New York ad agency Barker/DZP designed the awning and color palette, and a local publicist Gibson Associates is providing free PR. Fighting back a bit of emotion, Zimiles says that all this help has been “quite touching.”
Additionally, Words is dedicated to helping maintain Maplewood as an idyllic place to raise children and to retaining and expanding the retail mix in town.
When so many independent retailers are struggling, how does Words plan to thrive? Zimiles will put his recently acquired Columbia MBA to work, offer extended hours (eventually staying open until 10 PM, he hopes), and integrate the store with the community.
“This store is an expression of faith in the community. If we support the community and provide a beneficial service, I expect positive things to flow. But our job is to put up first,” Zimiles said.
The 2,300 square foot bookstore features an expanded inventory (Goldfinch had only 850 square feet) including a generous and growing special needs section; a children’s seating area with table, chairs, rug and bean bag chairs; two other seating areas; and large television screens at the front and the back of the shop that will promote upcoming events, other local businesses, and upcoming releases (technology is a special interest for Zimiles). He will also sell local paraphernalia (school t-shirts and such) to give the establishment that college bookstore ambience and make customers “feel more like it is their store.”
As for the rumors of coffee service: “No, not for now.” Zimiles says that serving coffee requires additional layers of approvals. For now, he is concentrating on learning to be a topnotch bookseller.
If karma has anything to do with success, Zimiles is stockpiling the good kind: He brought all the former Goldfinch employees along with him, and they have been “fantastic and a godsend.”
Words, which opened for business quietly on January 20, will celebrate its Grand Opening on Saturday, February 21, at 10am, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and free treats for shoppers.