Friday, August 5, 2011

Introducing Main Street Books!

As part of my newly revived Literary Locals feature, I will be bringing you a variety of interviews from some of my local literary loves.  You may see bookstores and authors featured, along with a few other surprises that I may have up my sleeve.  This is the kick-off of the first of my interviews and I am so excited to share this one with you because it is the owner of one of my favorite local independent bookstores!  I really could go on and on; however, when you read on, you will come to realize for yourself why this is the first of this series!  Please note that I interviewed her a couple of weeks ago and some books discussed have now been released.

Allow me to introduce you to Vicki Erwin, author and owner of Main Street Books in St. Charles, MO!


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your indie gem, Main Street Books.

One of the charms of Main Street Books is its location – in the heart of an historic district that carefully maintains the flavor of an 19th century village with brick and cobblestone streets and lovingly maintained buildings. The district works very hard to keep this feeling alive. Our store is located in a building from the 1820s, originally occupied by Missouri’s first secretary of state. The store is 18 years old and I’ve owned it for five of those years. We stress books on local history (natch!) and because my background is in children’s book we have a strong section in this area. I’ve worked in the “book biz” in one capacity or another for over 20 years – at bookstore level, wholesaler and publisher. For most of that time it was my dream to own a store. I’m so thrilled to say that dream actually came true for me.

Not only do you surround yourself with books every day, but you have also written one! Share about your book and your inspiration for it.

Up until ST CHARLES THEN AND NOW and MEXICO, my two latest books, all my published books were for kids (21 of ‘em, unfortunately out of print, but Google them and you’ll see). The ST CHARLES book came right out of working at the store. People often asked if there was a book with pictures of the buildings that told the stories of the buildings, what they used to be, who’d lived there and so on. No one else would put one together so I did. It’s been a great seller. The MEXICO (Missouri) book is about my home town and it grew out of wanting to know more about where I grew up. It was amazing how much I didn’t know about the history of Mexico. The books I wrote for children were middle grade, mostly mysteries and ranged from single titles to series including THE BABYSITTERS CLUB and SCOOBY DOO.

Running an independent bookstore has both benefits and challenges. Will you share your experiences with both the highs and the struggles?

The best part of being an independent bookseller is matching a reader with a book he/she loves and for me, that feeling is only magnified when it’s a young reader. There is also the feeling of community and of helping to build an audience for particularly good books that I love.

When I first started as a bookseller, the threat was the mall stores like B Dalton and Walden. Well, that’s over and they are gone. Then it changed to the chains – in fact my first bookselling job ended because a Borders built a store IN THE SAME BLOCK where we were located. And look what happened to Borders. Big box and every other store in town adding books to their mix presents challenges and then there’s Amazon – all discounting prices. Now we have e-readers to contend with as well. We try to meet the challenge by offering good service and knowledge of the books. Our website has e-commerce capabilities and customers can download ebooks from Google via our website. If our store is used only as a showroom to look at the physical book to see if a customer wants to order it online, we won’t be able to stay in business. We have a new sign in place at the shop – BROWSE HERE, FIND IT HERE, BUY IT HERE, KEEP US HERE.

Your store features a comfortable atmosphere in the heart of St. Charles, MO, particularly with an adorable children's section. What are a few of your children's best sellers?

Our bestselling children’s book is THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THE BOOK (featuring lovable, furry old Grover). First, it’s an adorable book and grandparents see it, remember reading it to their child and HAVE to buy it for their grandchild or a new parent sees it, remembers it as their favorite book and buys it to share with their child. It’s so fun to watch new parents rediscover their favorite books. The classics are still strong sellers which, of course, is what makes them classic – GOOD NIGHT MOON, CAPS FOR SALE, GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU, CLASSIC MOTHER GOOSE, HARRY THE DIRTY DOG – you get the picture. These are often gift books. The WALTER THE FARTING DOG series is popular for young boy readers and for adults giving gifts to other adults. Girls love the PINKALICIOUS series and FANCY NANCY. Everybody loves SKIPPY JON JONES (new title just out!). PRESS HERE, an interactive book, is getting lots of action these days. For older readers, the Percy Jackson books and the spinoffs of those still sell, Diary of a Wimpy kid, local author Heather Brewer’s Chronicles of Vladimir Todd series all sell well. And for YAs, DARK DIVINE, DELIRIUM, Cassandra Clare’s Immortal Instruments, Maggie Steifvater’s werewolf trilogy, Pretty Little Liars and books by John Green and David Levithan have strong followings.

What books do you find yourself recommending the most to your customers?

As I’ve mentioned, we sell a lot of local books about both St Charles and St Louis. (I also do a lot of restaurant recommendations!) GHOSTS OF ST CHARLES is a huge seller for us because any town that’s been around as long as St Charles has is bound to have a few ghosts wandering the street. People are buying Civil War books because of the Sesquicentennial, so I’ve had to brush up on those titles. I love mysteries, both of the cozy variety and harder edged suspense books, so it’s easy for me to go on and on about them. Truly though, customers want to know what fiction and new releases you’ve read and what you recommend. Since it is so dependent on what that customer likes and reads, I always ask what was the last book they read and liked to get an idea of where to start.

What upcoming release are you looking forward to reading the most?

Because we receive many advanced reading copies of upcoming titles and because I have no self-control when it comes to books I’m anxious to read, I’ve read a lot of the fall “big” titles that I was interested in. I loved NIGHT CIRCUS, a debut novel that almost defies description. Saying it’s a battle between two talented magicians doesn’t begin to encompass the appeal and story of this book. It was original and completely absorbing, taking me to another world entirely. I’m reading WHEN SHE WOKE right now and it’s very reminiscent of THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood but I can’t wait to go back to it and see what happens to Hannah, the main character. John Hart is a favorite author and he has a new, wonderfully meaty suspense book out this week, IRON HOUSE.

You are one of the members of the St. Louis Independent Bookstore Alliance and were one of the indies featured on the first-ever Independent Bookstore Cruise. How do you feel this has affected your business or the indie bookstores in general since its establishment?

The Alliance has brought attention to all the independent bookstores in the region. The cruise brought a number of new people in the door and I’ve already seen some of them again. Other customers have come in because they read about the store in one or another of the stories about the Alliance. It has also increased visibility of St Louis stores in publisher eyes. Almost every single rep I’ve talked to has asked about the Alliance and expressed excitement about it.

What is your dream literary destination (real or imaginary)?

I’m torn between Hogwarts and Louisa May Alcott’s home.

What is your all-time favorite book (or top 5 if you would prefer)?

This is one of the hardest questions for me to answer. And none of my answers are particularly literary. I love LITTLE WOMEN and even now when I reread it, I think maybe this time it will turn out the way I want it to. There’s an historical novel about Katherine Swinford by Anya Seton called KATHERINE and it was the book that turned me on to reading historical fiction. In the kids area, my favorite picture books are CAPS FOR SALE and MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL. I still adore the BOXCAR CHILDREN, NANCY DREW, TRIXIE BELDEN and the BABYSITTERS CLUB. I do love HUGO CABRET as well. For YA, THE KILLER’S COUSIN by Nancy Werlin is one of my all time faves. Of course I love HARRY POTTER. Elizabeth George writes the best mysteries but I wait anxiously for each addition to Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldie Bear series, Julia Spencer Fleming’s Claire and Russ series (stellar writing in this one), each new book by John Hart, Tana French and Kate Atkinson. In the fiction realm, CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT by Mark Haddon is a favorite title. Favorite authors include Sarah Addison Allen and Kate Morton.

For those interested in visiting Main Street Books, both in person or online, where can they connect with you?

Our new e-commerce site is now live –  And we’d love to meet everyone in person at 307 S Main Street in St Charles. You can also give a call at 636-949-0105 or email us at Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @mainstreetbooks (I’m not that great at tweeting regularly but I do sometimes if I think it’s worthwhile).


A HUGE thank you to Vicki!  This was so much fun!  Now it is your turn . . . share your comments with her and don't forget to click on over to check out more about Main Street Books!


  1. I love the store sign! I would definitely pop in there!

    And The Monster at the End of the Book was one of my childhood favorites too - I definitely tormented my parents and older siblings with "Read it Again" syndrome!

  2. lisa :) ... If you love the sign, you will love the store! Even the outside ... brick streets! ... is awesome!! My kids even love that book these days. A definite classic!

  3. The picture of your store front and the description of the historical nature of the building makes me want to fly down all the way from New Hampshire to see it--and then I'd pick up a copy of The Ghosts of Saint Charles to make the nostalgic atmosphere complete.

    Sounds like a wonderful place!

  4. Stephanie ... Thank you so much for the kind words! You should catch a flight this weekend! ;)


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