For This Bookshop, the Writing Is on the Wall

Kids' bookstore Emily and Peppo will soon be closing, another victim of the large chains and the "sale culture" they perpetuate, according to the owner.

Liat Kornfeld-Segol thought she would grow old in Emily and Peppo, the Tel Aviv children's bookstore she started. But now Kornfeld-Segol, 36, is on the verge of tears as she speaks about the shop's impending closure. "I fought for five years," she says, "and in the end I decided it's impossible to keep a store that doesn't sell books in aggressive campaigns like at the chains. I am tired of trying and I don't see a future for the shop in the existing conditions and with the rapacious competition."

If it were just any shop, a shoe store, for example, nobody would much care about her sadness beyond her customers and her Facebook friends.

Liat Kornfeld-Segol (Tali Meyer)
Liat Kornfeld-SegolTali Meyer

But because the pleasant shop captured a place in the heart of many parents and children, who spend time there not just as consumers but also in frequent encounters with writers and illustrators and at story hours and the like, and because Emily and Peppo tried to establish itself as an independent shop that is a kind of cultural institution in the center of Tel Aviv - news of the closure hit much harder.

Kornfeld-Segol opened the store five years ago with tremendous enthusiasm and to great fanfare. At that time she was the young mother of a three-year-old daughter and a two-month-old son, without a profession. She decided that what was missing for the children and herself was a magical store selling only children's books. She talks about this in terms of destiny and fulfillment.

The world of dreams and literature

The daughter of the owner of Keter Plastic, she says she came not from the world of business but rather from the world of dreams and literature. "My whole life revolves around books and especially children's books," she says. "I was the reading child of non-reading parents. My parents aren't Israeli-born. They didn't read books to me at bedtime and it was only when I learned to read myself that I became aware of this world."

She says she started out not knowing what constituted a bookstore.

"But it was clear to me that I would have old books like 'What Happened to Ruthie's Doll' and Lea Goldberg's 'What the Roe Does Do?' and 'I am a Little Dwarf.' There are people who come into the store and tell me that books they have found for toddlers they have found there get them in the stomach because they remember them from their own childhood," she says. "I am envious of them because I rarely have nostalgia like that for a book from my childhood. This shop was created explicitly out of my deprivation and my love for books."

Kornfeld-Segol, who has a Master's degree in literature and writes articles about children's books (in the online journal for children's literature Hapinkas, for example ), devoted a great deal of time to planning her vision. During the course of a year she visited the Beit Ariella library in Tel Aviv and delved deeply into children's books.

She also studied the market. She created a shop where the books are displayed by topic and not alphabetically, where there are only books she thinks are good and where there is a lot of space for the classics as well as for books not as highly regarded.

Kornfeld-Segol has a good eye for fine writers who have disappeared from the large chains because they were not on the bestseller list, for example. She also admires and devotes important space in the shop to illustrators. She currently offers prints by well-known illustrators like Ofra Amit - whose illustrations can be rightly seen as art.

Emily and Peppo started as a small store on Ben-Gurion Boulevard in Tel Aviv, near Dyada, where babies and parents congregate for playtime workshops. The idea was that the Dyada clientele would also come to the store. However, later the store expanded and offered its own unique workshops and classes, such as a Shakespeare class for children and illustration, comics and paper sculpture workshops.

Kornfeld-Segol also promoted the family business when she displayed Keter Plastic furniture for children in her store.

Not the first to try and fail

She says despite all that, she couldn't get a critical mass of people inside her doors.

"I realized very quickly that because of the need to attract customers I had to do something different and beyond selling the books I had to create initiated activities," she says. "When I was planning to open the store, I thought I was inventing the wheel. Later I realized attempts like this had already been made to open a store for children's books, which didn't succeed. I thought I would succeed but I discovered it was beyond my powers."

She sees the big book chains as party to the reason stores like her have difficulty.

"Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim are two giants that are trying to attract customers with all their might," she says. "And they are doing this in a way I see as destroying our culture of consumption. I want to believe they are not doing this in order to destroy the book market. After all, they are headed by people who love books. But they way they conduct themselves is making it hard for stores to survive. This is because they offer deals that private stores can't afford. This is harming not only the small stores but also the small publishers and also the creative people connected to books, writers and illustrators. If you're not on sale you don't exist. But if you are on sale, then the creative person doesn't make money."

The closing of Emily and Peppo can thus be seen as another result of the brutality of the large chains. But Kornfeld-Segol also blames the consumers.

"Nowadays people buy in quantity," she says. "They don't really buy what they want, but rather they choose according to the books on sale. Thus it happens they have a lot of books at home and they haven't in fact saved. I really was naive. I thought I would succeed in teaching people to buy wisely, that there would be a lot more people who would know how to appreciate what the store offers. But it's the hole in the pocket that's decisive."

Despite the bad feelings, she plans to close in a big way - with an absolutely final clearance sale from now until the end of December, (despite her criticism of special deals ). And should a group of customers or writers or illustrators want to protest against the large chains, she'd be happy to have them join.