Independent Women: Friends Open a Bookstore

Two women over 40 open an independent bookstore.

By Elizabeth Fishel
Marion Bundy (left) and Ann Leyhe, owners of Mrs. Dalloway’s. (Photo: Debra McClinton)

"Harbor Nothing!’‘

Now when customers remark that running the store "must be a fun hobby," Bundy and Leyhe can laugh. "It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done," says Bundy, who never imagined how physically demanding the job would be: unpacking, shelving, and breaking down boxes. They work nonstop most days and chat endlessly with customers.

Both families have seen big changes. Bundy’s kids are 18 and 21, and Leyhe’s are 16, 21, and 24. "I’m never home," Leyhe says, "but the benefit for the kids is that they’ve gotten closer to my husband. Now they call his cell phone instead of mine." Though the stress could threaten the close friendship, early on Bundy and Leyhe came up with a motto — "Harbor nothing!" — and vowed to e-mail each other whenever they were irritated. Running the store together, Bundy explains, "is very much a marriage, and it’s very intimate."

Lately, they’ve made several adjustments: Each partner now takes two consecutive days off every week. To bring in more customers, they do eight monthly events, up from four. And they divided some additional labor: Bundy draws on the marketing skills she acquired as a publicist to attract customers to readings, handles the media, and updates the store’s Web site; Leyhe, a self-professed "design nut," oversees the aesthetics of the place and plans gardening events such as flower-arranging seminars and lessons in wreath making. She also does the accounting and organizes their six part-time employees.

Sales last year were up 20 percent over that first year. That put them in the black by a few thousand dollars; most similar-size bookstores take three years to turn a profit.

"It’s scary out there," Bundy admits. "But we seem to have found a model that is working."

Originally published in MORE magazine, October 2007.

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