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The Novel Neighbor: On Ten Years of Operation and Open Door Romance


By Zoe Perzo

You’ve probably heard of The Novel Neighbor. The shop in St. Louis, Missouri, first opened in 2014. In the ten years since then, they’ve expanded, added a nonprofit arm, and recently announced their latest project — Open Door Romance. I sat down with Holland Saltsman, Owner; Kassie King, Director of Social Media and Marketing; and Stephanie Skees, Director of Events and Curated Collections; to learn about the past and future of The Novel Neighbor.

“The Novel Neighbor was born ten years ago out of a need for deeper connection in our community,” Saltsman explained. “I come from a small tight-knit town in Kentucky and I was really craving that closeness here in St. Louis.”

Since then, the Novel Neighbor has become a fixture in the community, meeting and surpassing Saltsman’s original vision.

Currently, the store carries all genres, as well as gift items and local art. They also offer carefully curated Mystery Boxes and Subscription Boxes. The Novel Neighbor also has two event spaces (soon to be one, more on that later!) that are available for rent. When they’re not being used for the store’s own unique events.

Though The Novel Neighbor offers the usual host of events — like story times, author events, and a vast array of book clubs — you can also find themed summer camps for kids or request personalized book-themed birthday parties! Their events calendar is perpetually packed with exciting offerings.

“We view our event spaces as community spaces because we’ve been able to do some very cool stuff in them,” Skees explained. “We’ve hosted concerts that feel so intimate and beautiful, craft nights for adults so they can feel like kids again, and political fundraisers and action nights for causes that align with our values. In a time where people are craving third spaces, our bookstore is a gathering place that doesn’t cost a ton of money to access and isn’t centered around food and drink.”

In 2019, the store added a nonprofit arm they named The Noble Neighbor. 

“We began bringing authors to St. Louis area schools in 2015 and saw firsthand how meeting an author inspires a love of reading in kids and encourages their own writing and creative expression!” Saltsman recalled. “[But] as booksellers we know that to many publishers, author visits only make economic sense when students can afford to buy books, which means that authors are often sent to schools that have greater access to resources. The Noble Neighbor seeks to fill that gap.”

All money donated to The Noble Neighbor goes directly to arranging author visits for schools that might otherwise be passed over, and making sure each of the kids in that school/grade/class get a copy of the author’s book.

“All kids deserve access to books and the love of reading, no matter the income level of their families,” Saltsman said.

When the store first opened in 2014, it was with the help of an Indiegogo campaign. Back then, the community raised $20,000 to help Saltsman launch the store. 

“Our Indiegogo from ten years ago is so nostalgic to look back on because even though I had a clear vision that I knew we could manifest, the store has grown in huge and exciting ways I never could have seen coming,” she said.

And now The Novel Neighbor is turning back to Indiegogo for the next big step. 

Open Door Romance is the next addition to the Novel Neighbor. This dedicated space for romance will take over one of the store’s current event spaces.

A room filled with empty white event chairs in front of a white wall
The Next Door Space, one of The Novel Neighbor's event room, will become Open Door Romance.

“For the last few years, romance has remained our top-growing section at the bookstore,” King explained. “Romance author events frequently sell out and our romance book club had over 80 people show up in the month of February –– yet the genre still carries an enormous amount of stigma in the literary community. Instead of going to Amazon out of fear of being judged or lack of access to titles, we want to encourage romance readers to gather together in safe spaces to read what they love, diversify their shelves, and make new friends.”

“This expansion also gives other sections in our store more room to grow,” added Skees. “Moving romance into an entirely different room gives us more shelf space for sci-fi/fantasy (our second top growing genre) and mystery/thrillers. We see this expansion as a win-win for so many reasons, and continuing to celebrate non-romance titles and ensuring they get the love they deserve is one of them!”

On February 29, the Open Door Romance Indiegogo campaign launched, hoping to raise $10,000 to cover opening costs for the mini-bookstore. The response was incredible.

“We hit our first goal of $10,000 in three days, and our first stretch goal of $15,000 in the first week,” said Skees, “which will allow us to acquire shelves on wheels (which are so weirdly expensive!), curate a new and bigger romance section, pay local artists to make the space more special, and prepare the downstairs Neighborhood event space to take over as our primary event space with greater accessibility, soundproofing measures, lighting updates, etc.”

“Our last stretch goal is for $20,000, which will allow us to acquire another register and check out counter in the Open Door Romance space for busy weekends and allocate more resources towards marketing and interior design,” she explained.

Open Door Romance is on track to open in August, just in time for Bookstore Romance Day.

“It’s funny, when I opened The Novel Neighbor, I only thought of the ways that this bookstore would have an impact in my local community,” Saltsman told me. “I definitely didn’t know the power of the internet and its ability to make genuine connections across the country and even the world. We get so many visitors from out of town and we truly consider them neighbors, because they’re a part of this community whether or not they live down the street.”

The team at The Novel Neighbor continued to bring our conversation back to their community. It’s clear how much they value their customers and their connection with them, whether selling books, hosting events, or giving back to the local schools. 

For anyone looking to get into bookselling, King says, “Make sure to find a bookstore that fits your vibe and go into it knowing that it’s more than getting paid to read books! My advice is to find your community. We’ve made friends with booksellers across the country because they are the only people who truly get it.”

And for booksellers everywhere, King reiterated the importance of working together and adapting.

“As indie bookstores, we are not competing against each other, we are competing against Amazon. And to do that, we have to get creative and stay nimble,” she said. “Some of our greatest successes have been through using our social media to show readers that it’s fun to get books from real people who really love those books.” 

If you’re in the St. Louis area, stop by The Novel Neighbor to browse or attend an event! You can also visit them on their websiteFacebook, or Instagram to learn more. They’ve also mastered the art of TikTok. If you’d like to help them reach that final stretch goal, or just want to learn more about Open Door Romance, you can visit the Indiegogo campaign