There's a unique sense of warmth and familiarity that washes over you when entering a local, independent bookstore, and that's exactly what McKenna Jordan tries to cultivate as owner of Murder By The Book on Bissonnet. Though it wasn't initially part of her post-college life-plan--she wanted to go to Law School--Jordan's group of employees has turned into a family of bookworms that spends more time together than any normal family should.
"We work several hours a week together, we work in close quarters, we have birthday parties together--we spend a lot of time together. So, you know, if I know that someone is going through a tough time and they need time off, then they get extra days. It's flexible in that it is a family type of environment."
The store's status as independent allows Jordan's employees a lot of creative input when it comes to the store's inventory. Any books that staff members are passionate about will be ordered and placed on shelves, even if they're about needlepoint, according to her.
In a time when Amazon delivery drones are on the horizon and print literature is being slowly replaced by e-readers and Kindles, stores like Murder By The Book hold a special place in the hearts of book lovers. For Jordan, who graduated from the University of Houston with degrees in English Literature and Violin Performance, that special place gives the store a unique purpose.
"Amazon doesn't host author events. So we host those events, where people get a signed print book. We continue to discover new authors and to sell those titles, and we're hand-selling books to our customers. I'm directly interacting with them, and we're constantly giving them recommendations. Amazon and Barnes and Noble don't do that."
What She Does: "I am the owner here at Murder by the Book and for this particular store, what that means is I do everything from the book ordering (which is technically called "book buying"), I manage employees, as well as take care of all the accounting. So pretty much everything except...well actually, pretty much a little bit of everything."
Why She Likes It: "I started, as most of our employees have, as a customer almost 11 years ago. I was still in college, I was getting a master's in violin performance, which I still do as well. I started working here four hours a week. Then it was full-time, then it was manager/book-buyer, and when the former owner decided to retire I bought the store from her. So it all started as just a love of reading, and that passion is what I have for all my employees here, that's what they have in looking for books too."
What Inspires Her: "The single best part of this job is discovering an unknown author, whether it's a debut author or someone who's been out there for a while, but you come across that book and you think, 'Oh my God, this is the best book I've read in however long.' Finding that book and then showing that book to customers, hand-selling it to them, and having them come back with that same response.
"That's the best part of this job. And knowing for a lot of the authors that you have discovered, that it makes sometimes a really big difference in their career, having a bookseller passionate about their book. Word of mouth really can be a major deal--it gets to the publishers, it gets to the customers. There have been several authors here that credit the store for starting their careers."
If Not This, Then What: "I freelance as a violinist. My life has always kind of been half literature, half music. And that still is the case. I own [the store], so thankfully as the owner I have a lot of flexibility with my schedule. So if I have a two-week musical production I want to play, I accept it and play that job knowing that if it means I'm doing bills at 2 a.m. at home, that's what I'm doing. But yeah, that's absolutely a major part of my life still as well."
If Not Here, Then Where: Before even hearing the whole question, Jordan replied: "London. I've thought numerous times about opening a second store there or splitting my time there, although it's a pipe dream. I love London and my mom who works here at the store and lives in Houston loves London, so that would be the number one place. And then New York if I didn't have this store. I would still probably try to get into publishing in New York."
What's Next: "I kind of always told myself--I'm 32 now--that I would stay here until I was 40. That would be 20 years at the bookstore, which is good amount of time, so I could retire and have a second career. And I don't know if that career would be music performance, or if it would be something book-related but not owning the bookstore. Or I may be here until I'm 80, who knows."
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