Interview: The Transgressions of Matthew Williams (Firefly Bookstore)
Interview conducted by Nolcha Fox
Strap in, 'cause we're about to take a dive into the gritty, underground scene of downtown Kutztown, where Firefly Bookstore has been the hidden gem since 2012. This place is the rebel's hideout, the punk rock haven for book deviants, puzzle anarchists, and anyone looking to stick it to the literary establishment.
Rebecca Laincz and Matthew Williams, the punk pioneers orchestrating this counterculture rebellion, cranked things up a notch in 2017. They relocated to a sprawling new underground bunker, a massive 3000-square-foot space crammed with over 65,000 contraband texts. Yeah, you read that right; this place is the headquarters for intellectual insurgency.
From children's innocence to the mind-bending fringes of sci-fi, from the dusty archives of history to the heart-pounding mysteries of board games, Firefly Bookstore is your bootleg market for intellectual thrills. But wait, there's more, my fellow rebels. They've got forbidden relics that whisper the secrets of the underworld, fine bindings that demand your defiance, and a stash of subversive merchandise like toys, buttons, and magnets. They even deal in covert book exchanges, always keeping one step ahead of the mainstream.
But this ain't just a shop; it's a full-blown revolution. Firefly Bookstore hosts underground gatherings all year round. Think author signings that feel more like punk gigs, and family game nights that are like mosh pits for misfits. So, if you're ready to dive headfirst into the world of forbidden books, subversive puzzles, and a rebellion of the imagination, stay tuned as we thrash it out with Matthew from Firefly Bookstore. Now let's ignite this literary mosh pit!
NF: What prompted you to start Firefly Bookstore?
MW: We were both living on the West Coast in the Bay Area of Northern California. We met while working at a large bookstore together, and after a few years realized that we liked the work and were suited for it. We started to develop a business plan, and research locations for a store of our own. Firefly Bookstore was born when we had a chance to move to Eastern PA and purchase a house. We saw the opportunity to use our experience and planning to create the bookstore we wanted.
NF: How has Firefly Bookstore changed over the years?
MW: We started small in a 1200 sq ft place with only about 35,000 items. We outgrew that space in about 5 years, but had been looking out for a larger space, hopefully in a building we could also purchase. We started renovation at our current location at the beginning of 2017 and re-opened a 3000 sq ft store that March.
We also greatly expanded many sections of the store, such as children’s books, fiction, and history. We were able to add more sections too! We also added board games and other tabletop games as well. We now carry close to 75,000 items.
NF: How do you compete with larger competitors, such as Amazon?
MW: Other bookstores are not precisely competitors. Most bookstores have different specialties and areas of focus. Most regular customers will visit more than one store. So, in truth, we share customers with other indie bookstores and large stores like Barnes & Noble. It's all part of the local book ecology.
Amazon is a bit different. They are EVERYONE'S competitor. It's a vast online market and do huge volumes in sales. Something about bookstores that is distinctly different from most other retail shops is that people enjoy being there. Bookstores are not just errands, they are destinations. So, it would be true to say that we do compete with Amazon, but they are also a very different part of the retail landscape. A customer who prefers the convenience of shopping online would be less likely to go to a store in any case. Fortunately, we also have a website for them to visit as well.
NF: What have been your biggest obstacles?
MW: Time and space, probably. We always wanted to do more, take more on, but there are only so many hours in a day, right? Having the larger space has been key, and has allowed us to have many more events, more authors, more open mic nights, more everything. We can take on larger projects and add more specialties like games. But still, we can only do what we have time and space to do, and that can be frustrating. We hope to be done with the store before we retire, but in truth, you are never really done. A bookstore is a dynamic and shifting entity. As our customers change and want new things, we change as well.
NF: What are your plans for the future?
MW: We know that we want to continue to grow and evolve our online presence. One of the lessons from the COVID-19 shutdown was that a strong online presence is a necessity for all retailers. We had a lot of community support, and we were in a fortunate position to pivot our business so that we could stay open. However, a lot of retail shops did not or could not, and there were some casualties in the bookstore world. But our foundation is still the local community, so we will continue to build on that. We would like to use some of our space upstairs for events and an art gallery. There are sections of the store we want to see grow. Add new events. So long as people want books and games, we will be here!
End of Interview