Bookworms, rejoice: Downtown Winter Garden soon will be home to an independent bookstore.
Writer’s Block Bookstore, which has operated in Winter Park since 2014, is expanding and adding a second location in the heart of Winter Garden at 32 W. Plant St.
During the Aug. 27 Winter Garden City Commission meeting, commissioners approved a targeted retail grant for $50,000 — $25,000 from the city and $25,000 from the Community Redevelopment Agency — to assist with interior alterations and buildout costs associated with getting the space ready to open in the fall.
City Manager Mike Bollhoefer noted during the meeting that it was something he initially didn’t receive well, because it is something the city had not done before. However, he eventually warmed up to the idea and described bookstores as “anchorettes,” noting their importance to a downtown area.
Lauren Zimmerman, owner of Writer’s Block Bookstore, said the only way bookstores succeed these days is by becoming a destination. That’s why cities with walkable shopping and restaurants — much like downtown Winter Garden and Winter Park — are good locations for independent bookstores. In fact, Writer’s Block has worked its way up to a new spot on Park Avenue — prime real estate in Winter Park.
“The reason that bookstores can succeed in these types of communities is if they become very active in the community,” said Zimmerman, a Winter Park resident. “You just get really creative about having community engagement. We’re going to be trying to bring authors in, which will be really exciting. We’re doing really well with our author events.”
Zimmerman said the city of Winter Garden approached her to open a bookstore in downtown Winter Garden a few months ago. Although she had previously visited Winter Garden and thought it was a nice area, she didn’t know it well enough at the time. So, she and her family began visiting Winter Garden more frequently.
“I was joking that before I decided to have a bookstore in any area, I had to fall in love with the area first,” Zimmerman said. “We thought it was really charming and it’s doing so well, growing so well, and it seems like the city is really focused on making the downtown a viable community and just actively seeking different types of businesses to be in downtown Winter Garden.”
Zimmerman knew if she decided to open a second location this year, it would have to be before or during the fourth quarter, when sales increase because of the holidays. The goal is for Writer’s Block in Winter Garden to open Nov. 1.
She said Writer’s Block will have a family-friendly focus, complete with a children’s area, special events, trivia nights, book clubs, seating areas, and, hopefully, author signings and events. The goal is to create and foster community.
“It’s a place where, hopefully, the customers will get to know the staff,” Zimmerman said. “Independent bookstores curate a different selection than most big-box stores. We work strongly with publishers on selecting — literally hand-picking — every book that’s in there. Every big box has the next John Green book, but we get to know the community, what they’re reading and what they like buying.
“We read the books ourselves and talk about the books, so it’s a lot more personal,” she said. “People kind of come in with that expectation that we really get to know our books, and we really get to know our authors. I go to conferences and meet authors, they send books for us to read in advance. … We really become very engaged the minutia of reading. It’s a very different experience.”
Community is one of the largest building blocks upon which an independent bookstore stands.
“Winter Garden is doing a really good job of trying to build up their little downtown,” she said. “I’m very impressed after spending time there. I had to fall in love with it first, because that’s what bookstores are: They’re a place for community.”