Betting on books, lawyer opens Haddonfield shop

When Julie Beddingfield was considering whether to open a bookstore in downtown Haddonfield, she crunched numbers, listened to experts, and studied pedestrian flow.

She also pondered the wisdom of leaving behind a law career for brick-and-mortar bookselling in a smartphone, Snapchat world.

"So I asked Remi Fortunato, the borough's retail recruiter, whether I was crazy," Beddingfield recalls.

Says Fortunato, who works for a nonprofit downtown promotional agency called the Partnership for Haddonfield: "I was honest with her. I told her that a bookstore would be an excellent asset and was needed, but that she couldn't just open it. She'd have to work it."

That hasn't been a problem for Beddingfield, whose Inkwood Books - a cheerful literary oasis for the whole family - debuted in June on Kings Highway East.

"I'm working as hard as I did when I was a lawyer," says the proprietor, 46, smiling from behind the counter. "But I'm having a lot more fun doing it."

"Business so far is better than I thought it would be," Beddingfield adds. "It's not where I need it to be, but it's a good foundation going into the holiday season."

A mother of twin boys, Beddingfield ran a coffee shop in Raleigh, N.C., before she began practicing environmental law in 2000. She moved to the borough nine years ago, became involved in Sustainable Haddonfield, and continued her practice.

"But it wasn't a good career for having a controllable schedule," Beddingfield says. "My heart wasn't in it after a while. I needed to do something different."

Walking on Kings Highway last spring, she noticed that the borough's sole bookstore, a relatively recent downtown arrival, already was going out of business.

She paused on the sidewalk and texted her sister, Stefani - who took ownership of a Florida bookstore, also called Inkwood, in 2013 - that she wanted to open a store, too.

"I said to her, 'You're an attorney,'" Stefani tells me from Tampa. "'You really don't want to make money?'

"In this business, you'll have a great day, and the next day you're watching cars go by and thinking, 'Are people reading anything other than their Facebook feed?' "

But Stefani loves being a book seller and encouraged her sister, who quickly found a promising location: A former flower shop turned yoga studio.

Beddingfield and her husband, Thomas Janssen, did most of the renovations, and the sisters collaborated on inventory and displays.

Four months after that first text exchange, Inkwood opened, selling new copies of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children's books.

"We're the only one doing this in South Jersey, aside from Barnes & Noble," says Beddingfield.

Noting the increased consumer interest in retail "experiences" that online shopping can't provide, Fortunato says Inkwood "is hitting at the right time."

An independent bookstore "is a community center," Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, says from White Plains, N.Y. Membership in the association has grown by 311, from 1,401 independent bookstore firms to 1,712, since 2009.

"People spend so many hours in front of computer screens," Teicher says. "There's a yearning to be in a physical place, talking to people, discovering books you didn't know about."

(I fell in love with that sort of bookstore serendipity back when a browser was someone who, like me, went to stores for the sheer enjoyment of picking up books, flipping through pages, and selecting the latest additions to my library.)

Nostalgia's not enough, however. "You can't just plop down a store, put up some shelves, and throw some books on them," Teicher says.

Inkwood needs to be "a viable business," Julie Beddingfield says. "This isn't a hobby. I left a good job to do this."

She agrees with Teicher that community involvement is critical, and notes that Inkwood already has an active schedule of author appearances, book clubs, and special events - such as hosting a Haddonfield Library discussion next Tuesday about the new Harper Lee novel.

"People keep asking me how I'm going to compete with Amazon," Beddingfield says. "But knowing your community and hosting events? You can't get that from an algorithm."

kriordan@phillynews.com

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