In 2017, Sam began her business renting a few shelves at Kenosha Creative Space on nights and weekends for pop-up events. Her sister and other family members chipped in to help make these events a success. The Kenosha Creative Space’s mission is to bring culture to the area, and this little bookstore certainly did. The store itself got its name because Sam’s nephew knew her home as a welcoming place where friends and family gathered and, as a toddler, he referred to it as the “blue house.” Sam wanted to create that same vibe of friendliness and comfort in her store.
She came to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at UW-Parkside for help. Jim McPhaul, the SBDC consultant Sam partnered with, helped her create a business plan she could take to investors. “Jim was so important to me! I walked in as this 25-year-old girl who didn’t know what she didn’t know. However, Jim took me seriously and gave me lots of valuable advise,” Sam said. She also received important start-up recommendations from WWBIC, the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation.
In September 2020, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, Blue House Books opened its own brick and mortar location. Sam thought quickly and began offering pick-up and delivery services. During the height of the pandemic, people were struggling to deal with being at home and were seeking puzzles, books and other activities to keep themselves and their kids entertained. Sam was soon receiving requests for a dozen deliveries per day.
“Kenosha had a bug push to support local businesses during the COVID pandemic, and the store benefited greatly from that,” Sam said. Blue House Books was also a recipient of the We’re All In Grant offered to Wisconsin small businesses by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).
Only one short year later, in September 2021, the unique shop outgrew its space and moved to an even bigger location on 6th Avenue. Sam credits her staff for some of the store’s wonderful success. “Every member of the staff loves to read and is a community supporter. They truly love helping people find the books that they need. Our store is all about the customer experience,” she said.
The staff started off consisting of just Sam. In January 2021, one customer who loved the store wanted to volunteer to help. She was hired instead and is now training to become a manager. Another interested community member approached Sam to help at the store and she is now working as the event coordinator. Blue House Books offers lots of fun events not provided by big box bookstores, such as book launches for independent authors and tarot card readings.
Sam is excited about the future! She hopes to add a café and coffee shop soon. And in a decade or so, she hopes to also become a publishing house. For now, though, she is happy to be a community center as well as a book seller. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the Kenosha community members,” she said. “We love when people tell us they feel comfortable and welcome in the store.”
Accomplishments with UW-Parkside SBDC
- Business Plan
- Business strategy