By Katherine McClellan
Part of the Baylor experience — and, increasingly, the Waco experience — is a stop at the coffee shop Common Grounds, with locations on and adjacent to the Baylor campus. The shop’s specialty drinks, comfortable couches and community atmosphere make it a staple in the lives of Baylor students. Now, Kimberly Batson, co-owner of Common Grounds and a Baylor Arts & Sciences alumna (BA in English ’07), plans to bring this same atmosphere to her newest Waco venture: Fabled Bookshop and Cafe.
Fabled started out as a dream of Batson’s and her business partner, Alison Frenzel, a freelance marketing consultant and photographer. The dream has now become a reality, as Batson and Frenzel have obtained a downtown building boasting a huge, green and gold “Wacotown” mural to house their brave new venture.
“Fabled will be an independent bookstore with a very curated collection,” Batson said. “We want something that is driven by the Waco community and not just corporate statistics.”
An essential aspect of Fabled’s business will be its ability to increase foot traffic in Waco’s ever-growing downtown scene.
“This building, built in the 1890s, has a real charm to it that has a historical link to downtown,” Batson said.
Batson and Frenzel didn’t want to start down this path if their bookshop idea wasn’t going to be a feasible business concept.
“We became members of the American Booksellers Association,” Batson said. “They put out a financial report every year, gathering all of the financial information from booksellers and compiling it into great tools to measure profitability.”
Meetings with independent booksellers in Austin and Dallas led the two women to believe that their idea would flourish in Waco.
“Today, everyone’s got the ‘You’ve Got Mail’ mentality — small bookshops are closing,” Batson said. “But just think — that movie came out 20 years ago.”
According to ABA reports, independent bookshop sales are going up, whereas bigger bookstores are struggling. Batson believes this shift is due to the rising “shop local” culture that inspires people to support local businesses and the shop owners tied to those businesses.
“This movement has been so helpful in sustaining independent bookshops. And now they’re thriving,” Batson said.
Why else is this bookshop good for Waco? “The problem in Waco is that there’s not a bookstore that carries with it a sense of nostalgia,” Batson said. “There’s not a shop that creates a space for you to enjoy your purchases while including a community-driven feel.”
Batson said Fabled will be set apart from big stores like Barnes & Noble due in part to its overall aesthetic. She and Frenzel desire to create an experience with their shop rather than meet a need, an experience that will build loyalty among its customers. Batson realizes that if you just need to buy a book, you will probably go online.
“But if you want an experience,” she said, “you want to go somewhere with someone and have a hands-on, all-senses-firing experience. You go to our shop.”
Fabled will house all genres of books. Batson hopes to provide readers with titles that are familiar — books that make you think, “Oh, I like this place,” as soon as you walk through the door. She also wants to incorporate finds that are different. “We want to have what people want,” she said, “and we want to have what people don’t know they want yet.”
Regarding their bookshop space, Batson and Frenzel were able to start with an empty shell — a prime situation when bringing a dream to life. At 6,400 square feet, the space will physically be more than a hole-in-the-wall bookshop. However, Batson still strives to foster a bit of that feeling. She said Fabled will be a space intent on creating what she has dubbed the “literary linger.”
“We want people to buy a book, stay and read it. We want to create areas where people can write and be creative and meet together. We want to create that space to just come and be,” Batson said. Think Common Grounds furniture — warm, inviting, comfy — but in a big, cozy bookstore.
To further promote the literary linger, Batson and Frenzel are adding a cafe to this beautiful space. With coffee, pastries, and a light lunch offering, they hope readers will be inclined to stay as long as they want.
Photo of Fabled co-owners courtesy of Rod Aydelotte, Waco Tribune-Herald