Under the Sun

Enchanted Chapters Was On Its Way to Success Before the Pandemic Hit

Enchanted Chapters' shelves will be empty by the end of the month.
Enchanted Chapters' shelves will be empty by the end of the month. Jennifer Goldberg

"There is just no way,” said Andrea Montepagano, “to sell 20,000 books in the next two weeks.”

The owner of Enchanted Chapters bookstore was sorry to be talking about closing her shop after less than a year. “It’s a short story. We started looking for a place and getting organized last year in June. I wouldn’t have opened at all if I’d known there’d be a health crisis and we’d be closing 10 months later.”

Montepagano’s plan to create an inclusive space for all people, but especially people with disabilities, was inspired by her own daughter.

“She’s a low-functioning autistic,” she explained, “and we had a hard time going into any kind of public space where there were a lot of auditory things going on, like bright lights and loud noises. There was no sensory-friendly children’s bookstore in Arizona that we could find.”

Montepagano wanted a place that was more predictable for her daughter and her daughter’s peers, with fluorescent lighting, quiet music, and a sensory room kids can go into if they feel overwhelmed.

“So we opened the store with that intent, and with those things. Right away, it did well,” she said. “Considering that we are a small business catering to a focused community, the larger community really welcomed us. Then COVID hit, and there was a rapid decline.”

The store’s name came from a brainstorming session with her childhood friend Jennifer Pettit, who manages Enchanted Chapters. “It sounded warm and welcoming and whimsical,” Montepagano said, “and fit well with the idea of a children’s bookstore. Where the Wild Things Are is one of my favorite books, and we took a lot of inspiration from that.”

Seventy-five percent of the shop’s inventory is aimed at people 18 and under. “So, we’ve got young adult, teen, tween, and children’s books,” she explained. “There’s a small selection of adult books, mostly cookbooks and self-help, for the grownups who come in with their kids.”

Some of the adults who visited the store were there just to see Bellatrix, the store cat. “Every independent bookstore I’ve ever been to in any city has a store cat,” Montepagano said. “I knew we had to have one. I wasn’t really counting on her having so many fans, of course. Some people walk in and just immediately ask where Bellatrix is.”

Store cat or not, Montepagano knew the shop would find its niche; she’d noted that in the past couple years, independent bookstores had been thriving. Millennials were turning from online reading and tablets, and seemed more interested in real books again, she reports. “Now this,” she said of the pandemic that’s keeping people from visiting brick-and-mortar bookshops. “The dream was to bring back the independent bookstore. No one was prepared for what’s happened.”

One of her goals for the store was to inspire youth, especially youth with disabilities, to be excited about reading. “Children’s book clubs, art clubs, story times, we had almost daily things going on. But when you take away the social aspect of a bookstore, it’s harder to get kids excited about reading. They’re less motivated to read without their peers around.”

Montepagano was glad she kept her day job in industrial sales. “This bookstore was a dream of mine, something I did on the side.”

She’s got a couple of weeks to liquidate the store’s inventory; whatever’s left over will be donated to schools and charity organizations. She hoped to have enough profit to share with her employees.

“After that, I don’t know what will become of us,” she concluded. “Our last day is July 25. We’d like to keep some kind of presence in some way. We may end up just another online bookstore.”

And what about all those people who want to see Bellatrix?

“I don’t know,” Montepagano said. “I suppose we may have to start an Instagram page for her.”
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela