It’s time for the second installment of our new series, Seven Questions for a Bookseller. We had a chat with Maureen Palacios, the vivacious owner of Once Upon a Time, a warm, welcoming, and longstanding children’s bookstore (with books for grownups, too) in Montrose. Maureen is a former president of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association (SCIBA) and is active in the literary community of California. Here’s what she had to say:
What is your favorite word, and why? “Enthusiasm”—mainly because you need it to sell children’s books, and you need it for life in general.
How did you come to own Once Upon a Time? In 2003, I was a human resources consultant, with twenty years of experience in negotiating employee resignations, handling layoffs, and recruiting. I worked from home. My family and I were weekly customers of the store back in the early 2000s. One day in late February, 2003, my children realized there were hardly any more books in the store that we didn’t have. I inquired and was told the store was probably going to go out of business unless someone bought it. My nine-year-old daughter (unbeknownst to me) wrote a letter to the editor of the Glendale News Press bemoaning the possible demise of Once Upon a Time. “Where am I going to find the fifth Harry Potter book if Once Upon a Time is gone?” she asked. Well, after discussing the store and its profits with founder Jane Humphrey, my husband and I put in a bid to buy the shop. We could not let this treasure of a store leave our community. I know there were other bidders who felt the same. I had zero experience in retail and was hoping Humphrey would stay on for awhile to transition, if we got the business. She called me three days after we put in our bid to tell me that we were the proud owners of the store! Well, this is our fourteenth year, and we are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the store’s opening in 1966. We are the oldest children’s bookstore in the country (per Publishers Weekly). Last year, we had the best sales in forty-nine years!
Which book do not enough people know about? I can’t do just one book!
For kids: Bark, George by Jules Feiffer—this is such a fun storytime book, with visual gags and a delightful twist that has youngsters scratching their heads about…waiting to get the humor…and then a light turns on when they do.
For adults: Not a Happy Camper: A Memoir by Mindy Schneider—with laugh-out-loud humor, a nostalgia of summer camp gone awry, and an innocence that in today’s world would seem childish, this memoir is the book I would take with me on a deserted island because I would want a friend like Mindy to keep me company and in good spirits.
Describe Once Upon a Time in three words. Enriching, vibrant, and young-at-heart.
You own a children’s bookstore, so why carry books for grownups? We have had an adult reading group for forty years, long before Oprah made book groups hip. We stock a very choice, very curated selection of adult titles due to adults asking for them many moons ago when the store’s founder, Jane Humphrey, ran the shop.
Which literary character do you most want to meet? Peter Pan, so he can transport me to Neverland.
What was your favorite book as a child? Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.
Once Upon a Time is an independent, family bookstore, carrying quality books for young and old alike. Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, it is a staple in Montrose life and has been lauded by the Woman’s National Book Association and by California State Senator Carol Liu for its role in inspiring a love of books in the youth of its community.