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Talking Animals Books

Who: Valerie Walizadeh and Katy Lemieux

What: A women-owned bookstore in Grapevine’s historic Main Street area  that opened Feb. 7.

Where: 103 W. Worth St., Grapevine, Texas, 76051

Website: www.talkinganimalsbooks.com

Fort Worth Report spoke with Valerie Walizadeh and Katy Lemieux about the business. This interview has been edited for content, length, grammar and clarity.

Seth Bodine: What inspired you to open a bookstore? 

Katy Lemieux: I had been working for a family business, and my mom sold it and retired in 2021. So I was like, kind of in the midst of a career overhaul and started thinking about if I started a business, what would I do? And I’m very involved in the arts and theater, so I kind of started thinking about that first. But then I saw an empty space near my coffee shop and started thinking about ‘Oh, what could go there?’ I was like, ‘Oh, a bookstore would be so great in walking distance from a coffee shop.

I started getting more serious about it and doing research. And then I started talking to people about how you would fund something like this. And people were saying, you need to get a loan, or you need to find an investor. And I just did not feel like I had a strong enough pitch to do that, to really seek out investments. I had no idea how to do that. Because I work in the arts, I had known a lot of people that had fundraised their projects, or their theater companies or things like that. And so I started looking at the different crowdfunding platforms. Kickstarter appealed to me because it was an all-or-nothing campaign. 

Once I got to about $30,000 I had a friend who has a big following. And she took up our cause and raised another $10,000 for us. And that momentum pushed us over to $54,000.

Valerie Walizadeh: Everybody’s dream is to open a bookstore and like, retire and then have the best life ever. Right? I always wanted to do that. But then I saw Katy doing this Kickstarter. And she was posting all this stuff about what she was going to do. And I kept seeing it. My kids are older. They’re 13 and 16 now, and they don’t need me as much. So I was kind of at the point of like, what do I do with my time? And so then I reached out to our mutual friend and was like, do you think Katy would want to partner? And then we met for lunch. And then it went from there.

Bodine: Were you surprised that the community rallied around a bookstore?

Lemieux: I had told myself that it was not going to fail. And because I knew that, if it did, it would be a huge public failure.

But one of my biggest fears is that we would get to like $13,000 and it would just stall out, where we had a significant amount of money, but not enough to make the goal and not enough to really do anything here. So I was nervous at first. But once we started going, and I saw people responding, I felt like OK, there’s really something I can harness here. And because the initial response was so positive, I was really able to utilize a lot of that momentum going forward.

Bodine: What was the inspiration for the title of your store?

Lemieux: The Chronicles of Narnia. 

Bodine: Is that one of your favorite books?

Lemieux:  Yes. My daughter is named Lucy. We just always really loved that story. I always connected with the fact that the children encounter the animals when they first get to Narnia, and they’re kind of like the guides for this unknown space that they find themselves in, but they’re friendly and helpful and knowledgeable and keep them safe. 

Bodine: What’s something about the bookstore business that you wish you both knew before you started?

Lemieux: I did a lot of research. There’s several first-person essays and articles out there about people that had started a bookstore, and I called people too. I was really afraid that there’s going to be things that I don’t know about this. So I reached out to other bookstore owners, and asked them how they got started, how they do their business model. And one of them, Will Evans, who owns Deep Vellum Books and Publishing, he first said, like, you need to get a partner, do not order all your books at once, see what people are buying. And, so he had really good preliminary advice that I don’t think I would have thought of.

Walizadeh: One thing I would say is trying to get a loan through the bank. You think you live in America, and this is like all about small business. But man, they make it really hard to get a small business loan. And we were just so frustrated with the process. We did so much work, so much research. We both have awesome credit, like, there’s no reason not to give us money. But we just finally were like, you know what? We don’t need the bank.

Bodine: Who are some of your favorite authors? What do you enjoy reading?

Lemieux: I really like classic literature and 20th century poetry. I really enjoy memoirs and nonfiction novels. I really love Erik Larson. His “ The Devil in the White City” is one of my favorite books and really introduced me to the idea of a nonfiction novel that could create a whole world where everything is true. I really like American writers. I really like John Steinbeck. I love the kind of early ’20s poets, I love W.H Auden and E.E Cummings and T.S. Eliot. So that’s kind of my educational background. I have a degree in English so I liked a lot of things that were things I had read and engaged with in school that have just stayed with me. 

Walizadeh: Romance is my favorite and usually I want it to be at home happily ever after. So there’s certain authors I know that are gonna get that to me. I read like Colleen Hoover, A.L. Jackson, Meghan March.

Lemieux: Which is great, because if it were up to one of us, we would not know what other people out there are reading. I don’t read a lot of super new or popular books. It’s very helpful to have someone that’s engaged with a community that I’m not familiar with. 

Bodine: What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a small business owner or open a bookstore? 

Lemieux: You have to be endlessly tenacious, you have to be the one that drives this. It is an around the clock effort. And you have to be willing to do that. Both of us I would say that’s one of our strengths is that we will not stop until we feel like we’ve achieved what we wanted. And that’s not some altruistic quality that we have. I think that when you’re not an academic, you’re not following a career path, you’re trying to figure out what you can do and it’s on you, you have to be the one that keeps going and pushes yourself. 

I talked about delusional confidence, but you have to have that, you have to believe that this work is worth it. And you have to have a partner, you have to have someone that can pull you up when you break down. 

Walizadeh: There were plenty of times we wanted to just give up. The bank tells you no and you’re like, ‘Oh, OK, they don’t believe in us.’ You have people saying, well, what about Amazon? What about Barnes and Noble? And you have these kinds of naysayers and you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what am I doing? This is so scary.’ But we just really believed in it. And this is what we want to do.

Lemieux: I would definitely say that this has given me thicker skin than I had before. I’m not great with criticism, I take things personally. And this has really taught me to toughen up and to know that things that are happening are not personal, they are part of this journey. 

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow him on Twitter at @sbodine120

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Seth BodineBusiness Reporter

Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....