Bookshop Superheroes: Oh Hello Again
October 4, 2021
In appreciation of our local indies who have reinvented their processes and protocols during the past year in the service of getting the just-right book into the just-right hands, our Bookshop Superheroes blog series features interviews with our partner bookstores.
This week, we’re featuring Oh Hello Again, our neighbor on 15th Ave. E., who is taking over our Instagram tomorrow, Tuesday, October 5!
Oh Hello Again, located in North Capitol Hill, does things a little differently in their shop—instead of showing all the titles upfront, the store has ideas, topics, and moods to help you pick your next read. Below, we speak with owner Kari Ferguson, who introduces her new space, shares the joys and challenges of bookselling, and answers the question, “Why would you open during a pandemic?”
Hi, neighbor! How long have you been open?
I opened Oh Hello Again in the middle of the pandemic in December 2020. I frequently get asked, “How long have you been here?” and people are shocked, both that I opened during the pandemic and that I’ve been open for so long without them realizing it. I’ve gotten a lot of “Why would you open during a pandemic? That’s brave!” comments. But really, the pandemic allowed me to open a physical location because rent prices dropped on retail spaces due to stores closing. I could find a great space in the great location at a reasonable rate because of all the people who weren’t risking opening a business during a pandemic. The community has been so supportive. I think people are enthralled with the novelty of a business opening, rather than shutting down, during COVID.
Can you share a fun fact about your bookstore?
I used to own a children’s bookstore in Vancouver, WA called “dickens.” The new owners had to shut it down in fall 2020 because of financial concerns due to COVID. I had started an online children’s bookstore selling curated collections of kids’ classics and vintage children’s vinyl in June of 2020. I named it Oh Hello Again because people would be “seeing” and buying classic books that they had read as children. I missed having my own shop and wanted to do something productive during the depressing pandemic shutdown. When I heard about my children’s bookstore closing down, I felt like my baby was dying. It sparked me to want to open a physical store again. I felt like I was “allowed” to at that point, if that makes sense? I wouldn’t be stepping on any toes.
I realized that I could probably afford Seattle rent now because of COVID. In late September 2020, I started looking around at spaces and decided on this spot in Capitol Hill. It felt like a good walkable street, was small, and I used to live in Capitol Hill in 2005. I knew that curated children’s classics was probably too niche a genre for an actual brick-and-mortar store, so I decided to expand my inventory. I had read about bibliotherapy that summer in Real Simple magazine and wrote the authors they had spotlighted to see if I could use their bibliotherapy books as a starting point. They were super enthusiastic about the idea. I kept the name of my children’s bookstore simply because I didn’t want to go through the hassle of changing my business name with the state. So that’s why we are called the rather random “Oh Hello Again.”
How have you been connecting with the community during this time?
We haven’t been able to hold any in-person events because of COVID. To be honest, it’s been a bit of a relief. At my kids’ bookstore, we had daily story time, author visits, pop-ups, etc. It was a lot of work! We definitely are a community bookstore, though. We are tiny, so I’m not sure that big events would work in our space. I have thought about hosting a book club in the future, and maybe some author signings. I do love local author visits.
The community around the shop is very supportive. I have multiple regular customers who either live or work in the neighborhood, ranging in age from small children to elderly individuals who’ve lived in Capitol Hill for decades. They know that I can order in books if we don’t have them in stock, and they definitely take advantage of that. I also stock local authors, especially if they live in the neighborhood. I can never compete with the bigger bookstores (and definitely not Amazon) on number of titles or even price because I buy such low quantities of books. However, I try to make up for that with a really specific and detailed curation of titles, a lot of fun sidelines, and delicious chocolates. I think the community is appreciative and understanding.
What are some top sellers in your shop right now?
We sell so many greeting cards. I love this because I love to pick out greeting cards. When we lived in Vancouver, I would go to Powell’s and just buy greeting cards to put on the wall, not to send to anyone. I just love cute greeting cards. So it’s nice that I can now buy them for the shop and sell them fairly quickly! In regards to our Austrian chocolates (Zotter brand), our top sellers are Coconut Marzipan, Hazelnut Brittle, and French White Nougat.
What about books? Of course, we do sell a lot of books. Our top titles so far have been Snow and Rose (a beautiful illustrated chapter book from Oregon author/illustrator Emily Winfield Martin), Circe by Madeline Miller, The Novel Cure by Ella Berthound and Susan Elderkin (one of those bibliotherapy books I used when setting up the store), and House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune. As for kids’ books, our top sellers are Washingtonian Nikki McClure’s Mama, Is it Summer Yet?, Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág (the oldest American children’s picture book in print!), and S is for Salmon by Hannah Viano.
What’s your favorite part about being a bookseller?
I love buying the books. Book buying and curation is my jam. I think that book covers are art, so I love to pick out beautiful books and beautiful editions of classics. The whole premise of the store is also extremely fun because I can create new sections based on completely random ideas, moods, or topics. I love to change things up, so this format of store plays really nicely into that. I can axe a section and re-shelve those books in different sections because each book can fit into so many different moods and situations. I love researching and creating the new sections. It’s so fun. Compared to my children’s store, I love being able to buy “grown up” books and sidelines now, too. Having to keep my other store “kids focused,” prevented me from buying a lot of cool inventory.
What’s the least fun part about bookselling?
There are those days when hardly anyone comes in or people come in, look around, and leave without buying anything (which I think is almost impossible to do, but I’m biased). I start to doubt myself on those days, like, “Did I pick terrible books?” It also makes me worry about paying rent and business costs like insurance, internet, music licensing, point of sale fees, bookkeeping, and inventory, of course. So far, we’ve been able to cover our costs and start paying off the opening investment as well. Fingers crossed things keep up at this rate!
Thank you, Kari and Oh Hello Again!