HUDSON: There’s something intimate about an old-fashioned, small-town bookstore, the way customers can spend an hour or more leisurely browsing shelves filled with colorfully bound volumes in search of just the right story to fill a weekend.
It’s an enchanting world where Kate Schlademan would like to spend the rest of her life.
So when her employer, Liz Murphy, announced in the spring that she wanted to sell the Learned Owl in Hudson, Schlademan, of course, was very interested.
But what’s a humble clerk and events manager to do about the $50,000 down payment she can expect a lender to require?
Schlademan turned to friends, family and complete strangers who share her love for the written word. She took advantage of a new trend in online social fundraising, where websites allow people to explain their need for money and site visitors can decide whether to donate to the cause.
Since posting her request Dec. 1, Schlademan has raised nearly $11,000 at www.indiegogo.com/owls-next-chapter and feels confident she can get close to her goal when her event closes Jan. 12.
“I feel good about my chances of raising the money, or at least a huge portion of it,” she said. “Enough of it to get me where I need to be.”
Most of the donations have come in from people she knows, but others have been a surprise, like a woman from Georgia who sent her $25 because she liked Schlademan’s one-minute video pitch. Other donations have ranged from $50 to $5,000.
Schlademan, 37, has been working at the Learned Owl, a Hudson icon on Main Street since 1968, for two years. She took the job after returning to Stow following a five-year stint in South Korea teaching English.
Before her time abroad, she spent years working in bookstores and nurturing a passion for them.
“I’ve always loved books. My parents read to me when I was young, and my grandparents had a huge library, and I’ve just always found it comforting,” she said.
A few months after joining the staff in Hudson, she became the store’s events manager, coordinating everything from book signings to author readings to community events.
“It was fate,” she said after the longtime events manager retired soon after Schlademan was hired.
Schlademan said she feels great confidence in the book retail industry, which took a hit with the dawning of “e-reading” technology that sends digital books to portable screens.
“There are more studies coming out that say print media is still alive and people still want it,” she said. “E-readers have leveled off. People like it for some things, but like print books for other things. The two can co-exist.”
Schaldeman said she doesn’t have big plans for changing the bookstore, except for “a little paint here, a little carpeting there.”
“For the most part, people love the book shop the way it is. They don’t want to lose that,” she said.
Murphy, the current owner, said she will not sell to just anyone. She is looking for someone who will help the bookstore thrive.
“Many customers and other book business folks have asked my opinion, wondering if they should contribute” to Schaldeman’s campaign, she said.
At first she tried to be neutral, she said, since she is speaking with other interested buyers. But then she read about a West Coast bookstore beloved by staff and customers that closed six months after it was sold.
“While I have hesitated to give an opinion, that story ... convinces me that perhaps it is time to state my mind. Kate, like me, would make the Learned Owl her life, and I do think it would be in good hands,” she said. “In the meantime, I am here until the right person takes over, so no one should have fears about the continuation of the Owl.”
Amy Freels, a book designer who has known Schlademan for years and frequents the Learned Owl, sees that same passion in Schaldeman and contributed to her campaign.
“I know Kate loves books as much as I do. She’s the perfect person,” Freels said. “Also, there is something about helping a friend realize her dream.”