Haddonfield resident Julie Beddingfield hopes her book store will become a fixture of the downtown shopping district by focusing on community-building.
By Matt Skoufalos
Julie Beddingfield had been looking for an escape hatch from her legal career for years.
But she wasn’t sure what form it would take until the day she saw that the Haddonfield Book Swap was going out of business.
“I knew that I wanted to transition into something, but I was just trying to figure out what that was,” Beddingfield said.
“It hit me standing there on the sidewalk: that’s what I’m supposed to do.
“I stood there looking at the closing sign and I sent my sister a text: ‘I think we should open an Inkwood Books in town.’”
Inkwood Books is the independent bookstore Beddingfield’s sister operates in her Tampa, FL hometown. In addition to being a fun, family-run operation in which their brother also participates, the Tampa location provided a blueprint for Beddingfield’s shop.
When the storefront at 31 Kings Highway became available, she did a few months of due diligence, and on June 13, Inkwood Books Haddonfield will open for a soft launch.
Beddingfield believes there’s an unfilled niche for a local, independent bookseller. Although she’s passionate about the model, she admits it’s not a lifelong dream, but rather the expression of her entrepreneurial spirit.
“It wasn’t like I always wanted to own a bookstore,” she said. “It was more just an idea and an opportunity and being willing to take the leap to do it. I knew that I had to at least try it.”
Creating a ‘third place’
With the ease of on-demand shopping, many brick-and-mortar retail businesses have been squeezed by online retailers who profit on commodity margins.
But Beddingfield believes that there’s been a recent shift in buying trends as communities are realizing what they lose when businesses like hers aren’t part of the downtown landscape. As the co-chair of Sustainable Haddonfield, she believes booksellers “fit right into that” sustainable economic template.
“The bookstores that are coming back are the ones that are really connected to the community,” Beddingfield said; “working with the schools, having events, trying to get to know the community, and be[ing]out and about in the community.
“I can’t buy 5,000 copies of something and sell it at 20 percent off,” she said.
“I want to be the bookseller who can help you with recommendations and remember your kids’ names. There’s some great books that are out there that you might not just find if you’re on Amazon, swiping along.”
Borrowing from Ray Oldenburg’s concept of The Great Good Place, Beddingfield said she wants Inkwood Books to be a “third place”; a social haven complementing work and home, where shoppers will feel connected to her inventory, to one another, and by extension, to the town at large.
“All great cultures have third places,” Beddingfield said. “It’s where there’s no social hierarchies, the community comes together, and you’re just there with the rest of your community.
“It’s that type of place and that type of feel that we want to have,” she said.
“I think people want a place to go and be with the books and be with the booksellers and spark a conversation.”
To create that interactive space, Beddingfield said she will rely on a carefully curated collection, literacy-focused events, book clubs, and author signings—like the June 20 event featuring local young adult writer Dan Gutman.
The 1 p.m. meet-the-author event is the highlight of the Inkwood Books grand opening, and accompanies the early release of Gutman’s latest work, Miss Cuddy is Nutty, which the store has special permission to sell a few days in advance of its official release.
“He’s also moving away, so it’s his last book signing in South Jersey for the foreseeable future,” Beddingfield said. “Any of the Dan Gutman fans should come because you won’t see him for a while.”