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The Snail on The Wall: The ‘Bookstore Without a Store’

Hold on to your preconceived ideas of the need for a “brick and mortar” storefront operation.

With The Snail on the Wall bookstore, Huntsville’s Creative Entrepreneur of the Year winner, Lady Vowell Smith, has developed the perfect mix of online sales and pop-up events. 

Smith, owner and founder of The Snail on the Wall bookstore, is a book aficionado with a Ph.D. in literature. She established The Snail on the Wall as a “bookstore without a store” in 2017, starting with a pop-up store at Randolph’s Under the Christmas Tree market.

With razor-thin margins on books, coupled with major competition from the “Big Box” bookstores, community bookstores have had a hard time surviving, even in the best of times.

Smith’s business model has low overhead and high flexibility, but also offers the same services that a “brick and mortar” independent bookstore would customarily provide: a curated selection of books, personal recommendations, gifts for readers, author events, and community partnerships with schools, organizations, and businesses.

A lack of small local independent bookstores – a place where readers and authors could meet and share ideas is what prompted the creation of The Snail on the Wall, she said.

“I knew that Huntsville was missing out on nationally known authors coming to our city,” said Smith. “They were stopping in Birmingham, Nashville, Atlanta, and every place around us because they had independent bookstores and Huntsville didn’t.

“I didn’t know anything about bookselling, so I thought I would experiment with a ‘store without a store.’ Then, once the model started, the delivery service worked, and it reaches more people than it would if it were in one fixed location.”

During a pandemic in full swing, bookstores around the country are struggling, just like other small businesses.

“I don’t want to say business is better because when I compare it, it’s different,” said Smith. “I’m probably working harder for less; everything is just a little bit harder right now.”

Otherwise, business is good. “It’s going really well for the holidays, it’s extremely busy, a lot busier,” said Smith. “With COVID, a lot of people discovered my business because it has a delivery service. Books were one of the things that were so popular when we were all staying at home. I do think a lot of people discovered The Snail on the Wall as a ‘delivery to your doorstep with no contact’ delivery.” 

The Snail on the Wall has hosted several large events in the Thurber Arts Center at the Randolph School in partnership with the Huntsville Library Foundation.

As a key component of Smith’s bookstore business model, author events are something that have been sorely missed. Author events draw in big crowds.

In March, The Snail on the Wall hosted “Sean of the South,” author and podcaster Sean Dietrich. Last year, it was former journalist turned author Lisa Wingate.

“We had 275 people for Lisa Wingate, 300 people for Shawn of the South,” said Smith. 

Smith has hosted events at a variety of places, including breweries, such as Fractal and OTBX, which helps to promote the wide assortment of partnerships. Last November, in partnership with Rocket City Mom, The Snail on the Wall hosted Ann Vogel, a nationally known podcaster and author, at the Stone Event Center, 

“I often try look for partners when I do an event because it increases the reach,” said Smith. “That’s been part of the Snail’s business from the start, to partner with other businesses. Find places to pop up, find places to do events, that kind of thing. 

“I’ve hosted at Roosevelt & Co. (on Clinton Avenue), which is where my pop-up store is right now. This is the third year that I’ve done a holiday pop-up store through the whole month of December. I have it all set up and people can come shop anytime.” 

Smith said she values the collaboration that comes with partnership.

“It’s really the only way I could have done this non-traditional business model and the only way it would probably work, not just to get the word out, but to help with the logistics and the venues,” she said. “Most of the places and partners have found that it’s just as beneficial for them, if not more. 

“Because of COVID, there is a lot of awareness that we need to support small businesses. I do think people are shopping small when they can.”

 

Some Ideas for Shopping Local, Shopping Small for the Holidays

‘Tis the season to start thinking about holiday gift-giving. Only this year, it comes with a unique pandemic-infused twist.

To help make the annual holiday shopping experience more of a joyous occasion and less of a chore, Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment is hosting its fourth annual “Yule Y’all,” from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Dec. 5. Enjoy one of the most popular outdoor-centric holiday market and spirit sampling events of the season. There will be a tantalizing assortment of maker art, holiday creations, food, and music, along with a spirited chaser. This year’s event will also fully embrace the social distancing mindset and mask protocol.

The lighting of the iconic Lowe Mill water tower will take place at 5 p.m.

With more than 150 working studios and seven galleries, there’s something for everyone at Lowe Mill. From Cigar box guitars to sculpture and all points in between. What’s more, it’s all created by local artisans and/or owned by local entrepreneurs. Support Your Community: Shop Local!

Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment

2211 Seminole Drive

Hours: Wednesday-Thursday, noon-6 p.m.; Friday, noon-8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

(Note: Individual vendors and artists’ hours may vary)

(256) 533-0399

Lowemill.art

Facebook: Lowe Mill Arts

 

Wondering where to begin? Here’s a handful of clever gift ideas, designed to jumpstart even the stubbornest of holiday shopper’s block. If crowds are a concern, many of the businesses listed also have an online retail presence. Listed below are a few of the many talented artisans, makers, and entrepreneurs in Huntsville/Madison. Beginning at Lowe Mill.

CHOCOLATE’S THE WORD

For those stumped on what to buy, it’s hard to go wrong with the gift of chocolate. This isn’t any ordinary chocolate, mind you. Owners Caitlin Lyon and Michelle Novosel have built a mini empire based on their elaborate, unique, and most importantly, delicious confections. In addition to chocolates, there are mini-cakes, ice cream, and chocolate and coffee beverages. Coming soon, just in time for the holidays: Pizzelle’s fabulous Drinking Chocolate ornaments. Willy Wonka beams proudly over their well-run enterprise.

Pizzelle’s

Railroad Room 4A

Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, noon-4 p.m.

(256) 513-9745

Pizzellesconfections.com

Facebook: Pizzelle’s Confections

 

THERE’S A SONG FOR THAT

Everyone loves the gift of music. And vinyl has made a comeback in a big way. Vertical House has a plethora of 33-1/3 titles, from the well-known to the most obscure. As a fixture at Lowe Mill since 2007, Vertical House is your go-to for all genres of music. Their newest location has more square footage, which means more CDs, cassettes, 8-tracks, and of course, more VINYL. If something you want isn’t in stock, owner Andy Vaughn can order it for you.

 

Vertical House Records

Railroad Room 9

Hours: Wednesday – Friday, noon– 6 p.m.; Saturday, noon–5 p.m.

(256)  658-2976

verticalhouse@gmail.com

theverticalhouse.com

Facebook: Vertical House Records

 

JEWELRY IS A GAL’S BEST FRIEND

It can also be a guy’s best buddy, right? Connie Ulrich’s jewelry is a fusion of natural materials and skillfully worked metals and precious stones. Her studio presents an attractive selection of hand-crafted jewelry, rings, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. There’s even a workshop for making your own ring! Along with the amazing assortment of jewelry, Ulrich also has a fine selection of small paintings available for sale.

Connie Ulrich

Studio 121

Hours: Friday, noon-6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; and by appointment only

(256) 536-4653

Connieulrich.com

Facebook: Connie Ulrich Studio

 

WELCOME TO FABULOUS HUNTSVEGAS

Cheers to the Rocket City! If you’re seeking unique, head to Green Pea Press. Green Pea Press has a wide assortment of t-shirts, mugs, coasters, koozies, earrings, and stickers. They also have an assortment of frame worthy screen print art. For those who would appreciate an “experience” kind of gift, Green Pea Pressoffers printing workshops and classes. Gift certificates are also available from $25-up.

Green Pea Press

Studio 150

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

(256) 533-0399

Greenpeapress.com

Facebook: Green Pea Press

In addition to its Lowe Mill studio, Green Pea Press has a location on Governors Drive:

Green Pea Press

2720 Governors Drive

Hours: Monday-Friday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

(256) 924-0451

 

IT RESIN-ATES!

Up-and-coming resin artist Kenzie Johnston (aka KenziB) will first delight you with her personality, then with her eye-catching and creative assortment of colorful geode-like designs and preserved flowers in resin. The flowers are always bright and fresh; Johnston picks up a new batch daily.

KenziB

Studio 301

Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m.

(601) 481-5707

kenzi.boo.art@gmail.com

kenzib.com

Instagram: kenziejohnstonart

 

WHISKEY A GO-GO

One man, One whiskey. NASA engineer Jeff Irons has a natural gift for distilling only the best. Love, patience, and commitment are evident in the final product. And for those reasons, Irons One has continued to grow exponentially in popularity. Irons One is a small batch, handcrafted whiskey. “The only way I know how to make the best whiskey is to be totally involved in every step of the process,” says Irons. “I can only do that if I stay small enough in size to manage each step.” Be sure to check online and sign up to the Irons One e-mail list for product updates and availability.

Irons One Whiskey

Studio 2061

Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m.

(256) 536-0100

ironsonewhiskey@gmail.com

Ironsone.com

Although Lowe Mill provides one of the most uniquely creative shopper’s paradise, here are a few more places to consider.

 

BEER IS THE WORD

If you’re looking for exceptional craft beer, look no further than Das Stahl Bierhaus. With 32 beers on tap, you can have some now, then take some home in a 32- or 64-ounce glass growler.

One of the big hits at Das Stahl this season are the Advent beer calendars. The calendars come pre-assembled and filled with a jolly assortment of holiday brewskis. The Advent box can also be purchased and filled with a selection of personal favorites. Not sure what beers to buy? For $15 more, one of the crew at Das Stahl can fill up that calendar with a selection that’s guaranteed to delight. In addition to draft beer, Das Stahl Bierhaus sells a wide assortment of canned and bottled beers, decorative steins, branded glassware, and t-shirts. Still undecided? There’s always the gift card option.

Das Stahl Bierhaus

7914 Memorial Pkwy SW, B2 (Village Center)

Hours: Monday-Wednesday, noon-8 p.m.; Thursday, noon-9 p.m.

Friday & Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 2-8 p.m.

(256) 858-1495

dsb-hsv.com

Facebook: DSBHSV

 

SWEET HOME ALABAMA

When looking for the perfect gift, check out Alabama Goods. Along with assorted gift baskets, Alabama Goods boasts one of the largest selections of Alabama-made pottery. In fact, everything in the store is created by artisans here in our sweet home Alabama! Owners Sherry Hartley and Beth Staula search far and wide throughout the state for just the right art, jewelry, pottery, crafts, and food items.

Alabama Goods

2722 Carl T. Jones Drive, Valley Bend Shopping Center

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m.

(256) 270-7439

alabamagoods.com

Facebook: Alabama Goods Huntsville

 

WINE NOT?

Uncorked is in the heart of Providence Main and owner Saranne Riccio’s secret to her success lies in her simple philosophy, “Wine doesn’t have to be intimidating.” Along with a variety of wines to suit any budget, there are tasty tidbits, such as Mama’s cheese straws, Arabella’s dilled onions, candied jalapenos, and pepper jelly; Belle Chevre goat cheeses, and Pizzelle’s chocolates. Add these delightful goodies with a great bottle of wine to your next gift basket.

Uncorked Wine Shop & Tasting Room

485 Providence Main St

Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday, noon-8 p.m.; Saturday, noon-7 p.m.

Closed Sundays and Mondays

(256) 970-4717

Facebook: Uncorked Wine Shop Tasting Room

 

And don we now, our seasonal apparel. If you’re looking for a variety of ladies and kid’s clothing, along with assorted accessories and swag, Redbird Boutique is the place to go. Co-joined with University Pickers, Redbird features over 60 local designers and there’s a wide variety of items to choose from. Bird is the word, shop local!

Redbird Boutique and Gifts at University Pickers

3024 University Drive

Hours: Monday – Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sunday, noon–5 p.m.

(256) 536-5738

Redbirdhsv.com

Facebook: Redbird Boutique and Gifts

Listed below are two of the many local designers with merchandise available at Redbird Boutique.

 

WHISK YOU WERE HERE

The brainchild of Jonathon Fowler, Fow Wow merchandise is iconic, quirky, and uniquely Huntsville. Many of the designs are sure to provoke a smile, or even a laugh. Fow Wow brand products are sold throughout Huntsville in retail establishments, such as Redbird Boutique and Huntsville Museum of Art. Merchandise can also be ordered online. Check their website or Facebook page for a complete selection of products.

Fow Wow Designs

fowwowdesigns.com

Facebook: Fow Wows

 

SOUTHWESTERN HEART CHIC

Summer Sklar, an El Paso native-Huntsville transplant, puts her heart and soul, along with beads and wire, into her captivating assortment of Mexican/Southwestern-meets funky chic jewelry. Sklar creates a beautiful selection of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and wine charms. Each piece of Heart & Wire jewelry is one-of-a-kind and is available at Redbird Boutique or via online at the Heart & Wire website. Custom orders are also welcomed.

Heart & Wire

Heartandwire.com

Facebook: Heart and Wire