Meet the Woman Turning a New Page in Wilmington’s Book Scene | Delaware News

NATALIA ALAMDARI, Delaware News Journal

WILMINGTON, De. (AP) – When Ellen Cappard is having a bad day, she goes to the library.

It’s a practice she started as a child, growing up around the corner from her South Jersey neighborhood library, and has continued into adulthood.

“You know when you’re out there and you just feel like, ‘These are my people, this is where I belong? “” Cappard said. “This is how I feel when I go to the library.

It’s that same sense of belonging and love of reading that Cappard hopes to instill in Wilmington, with the opening of Books & Bagels, the first bookstore to open within city limits since the closure of Ninth Street. Book Shop in 2018.

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There are still a handful of bookstores in New Castle County – The Hockessin Book Shelf, two Barnes and Nobles, and a host of niche comic book stores.

But after moving to Wilmington from Washington, DC in 2017, Cappard was shocked at the lack of neighborhood bookstores in the city.

“Each neighborhood (in Washington) had its own bookstore, with its unique character and quality,” Cappard said. “I didn’t realize how much of a treasure it was until I moved. “

Housed in Cornerstone West Community Development Corporation’s small business incubator space at the corner of 7th and Harrison streets, Books & Bagels features shelves full of colorful books, featuring an array of diverse and up-and-coming authors.

In one corner, tiny leather armchairs make up a reading corner for children. Leafy green plants fill the spaces between the stacks of books, and a counter stocked with tea, snacks, and pastries greets customers as they enter.

She wants it to be a place where everyone can feel they belong. Warm and welcoming, “where you can let go and relax.”

It’s also a space dedicated to supporting other small businesses and community groups in Wilmington neighborhoods – the extensive collection of plants is from local business Silver Stem Plants. Desserts are prepared by Charlie Rose Sweets on the West Side of Wilmington.

“I want the products to reflect the talent here in Wilmington,” said Cappard. “And to bring local writers here. So people know this is a great place for Wilmington to check out some small business products that they may not have had a chance to go out and explore.

Books and reading have been a constant presence in Cappard’s life. She became an educator after volunteering in a school reading program. In her spare time, she writes and illustrates children’s books that she hopes to one day publish. If she isn’t reading her own To Read list, she is reading with her 12-year-old daughter, Sophia.

The idea of ​​one day opening a bookstore “was like a tiny little song in my heart,” she said.

She just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

Cappard and his daughter moved from Washington to Wilmington in 2017, so that Sophia, who suffers from cerebral palsy and epilepsy, can receive treatment from Nemours.

Cappard continued to work in schools, until the pandemic turned everything upside down.

The same nursing shortage that ravaged Delaware hospitals also drained the team of nurses and physical therapists who helped care for Sophia on a daily basis – and that made it impossible for Cappard, a single mother, to work full time. .

With schools suddenly going online, Cappard was forced to quit her job as an educator to care for her daughter around the clock.

Time spent at home had a mental impact, she said. But it also gave him the opportunity to reflect on his life.

“I want to live a life without limits,” Cappard said. “But for a long time, I was only focusing on caring for Sophia and making sure she’s alive and thriving.”

When are you going to work on your dream? she said she wondered.

Cappard began to write more. She toyed with the idea of ​​opening a bookstore just for children.

In the fall of 2020, she participated in the Launcher Entrepreneurship Program at Cornerstone West. It was there that she developed a comprehensive business plan.

At the time, she had devised a three to five year plan to set up her bookstore. She would save money here and there to someday make her dream come true.

Then the business coaches with the Launcher program came to him with a proposal earlier this year: We have a space. Would you be interested?

It was Cappard’s passion for books and the store that caught the group’s attention, said Jacqueline Castañeda, small business coordinator at Cornerstone West.

His ideas for creating a sense of community within the bookstore – whether that’s by hosting a diverse collection of books, hosting book signings and workshops showcasing local authors, or hosting events that merge reading and writing with conversations about mental health – would add to a neighborhood that had in the past used the building as an event space, Castañeda said.

As a black woman entering the predominantly white bookstore industry, Cappard is also breaking a barrier, Castañeda said. In a predominantly black city like Wilmington, this type of representation is important.

“A few blocks away, there is someone in the neighborhood who looks like you and who is successful,” Castañeda said, in a way that can help encourage kids to be more avid readers.

Books & Bagels is located at 1139 W 7th St. and is open from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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