When Alison Frenzel and Kimberly Batson met last year, they bonded over a love of books. Now they’re working to create a downtown spot to draw other book lovers together.
The Waco women are planning to open Fabled Bookstore and Café next summer in a spacious old building at 215 S. Fourth St. They envision a space for 20,000 to 30,000 books, along with a coffee bar, a fun children’s section and event space that will be open to author’s readings and children’s birthday parties.
Opening an independent bookstore in the age of Amazon may seem daunting, but Frenzel and Batson said they’ve done their homework and believe the venture can succeed if it builds a community around it.
Batson said that as co-owner of Heritage Creamery and Common Grounds, she has learned the importance of creating a distinctive, welcoming space where customers feel they belong.
“One of our big drives is having an aesthetic that’s engaging,” Batson said. “When you have places that have culture, that have an atmosphere that set them apart, people are drawn to that. When you pair that with books and people who are passionate about books, it’s a no-brainer.”
Frenzel, whose background is in marketing, advertising and photography, agreed that atmosphere and customer service are key.
“We want to be trusted booksellers,” Frenzel said. “We want this to be a place where someone who doesn’t read can come in and say, ‘I’m going on vacation. What can I read?’ But it will also be a place where avid readers can feel at home. We want to have a place where people can sit and savor their books. … We want to bring back the nostalgia of reading.”
Fabled has already drawn an enthusiastic online following through social media, including about 1,900 followers of its Facebook page.
Batson and Frenzel cite statistics from the American Booksellers Association suggesting that brick-and-mortar book retailers have seen an uptick in sales in recent years.
“I really wanted to put this under the fire and say, is this a pipe dream? Is it a feasible concept?” Batson said. “But surprisingly, book sales are increasing every year.”
Still, the partners say their niche is different from big-box retailers such as Barnes and Noble, starting with the more literary selection: There will be bestsellers, but no romance section or shelves of software guides.
Also, they want the vibe to be downtown, not suburban.
“Finding the location was the biggest challenge,” Frenzel said. “We wanted foot traffic and also enough parking, and we wanted to be in the heart of the city.”
Behrens Loft Partners, which operate the lofts next door, owns the building and plans to renovate the 7,500-square-foot downstairs area for Fabled, said real estate agent Gregg Glime, who is handling the deal. He is also seeking opportunities to turn the upstairs area into office or loft spaces.
The building appears to have housed Toby’s Business College in the 1920s, and in recent decades it has seen short-lived ventures including Cadillac Jack’s, Baha Burrito Bar and 40 Thieves Hookah Lounge. Glime said a lack of parking has crimped the building’s use over the years, but the Behrens group is offering a parking lot with the space.
City Center Waco executive director Megan Henderson said she has enjoyed talking with Frenzel and Batson about the business and about books. She said Fabled has the opportunity to be a leisure destination and meetup spot, a “third space” that is neither work nor home.
“I think if you’re going to be a small space, making your enterprise about more than just a commercial transaction of an increasingly rare paper artifact is smart,” Henderson said. “But I think these ladies are thinking about it in the right way, which is that it’s about experiences.”
Frenzel and Batson met last August, through another downtown entrepreneur who knew they shared a vision of opening a bookstore.
“That’s been such a great thing,” Batson said. “We’re both from Waco, and we have so many mutual friends and acquaintances. … As we’ve done our research in all the different bookshops, we’ve seen every shop has its own purpose and passion and vision. What’s been so surprising to Alison and myself is how our vision is so aligned. We realize this is really rare that we have the same purpose and passion for what we want to bring to Waco.”
It didn’t take long for Frenzel and Batson to find that they were kindred spirits.
“I met her briefly at a businesswoman’s lunch,” Frenzel said. “I sent her an email but had no expectations. But our conversation just kept going and going.”
Frenzel grew up the daughter of a Baylor English professor, Maurice Hunt, and studied English at Texas A&M University. After living in other cities she returned with her husband, Brandon, who is an associate pastor at First United Methodist Church.
Batson was also the daughter of Waco educators and got her English degree from Baylor in 2007.
“This is what you do with an English major,” she said with a laugh.
Batson learned the nuts and bolts of business starting about a decade ago, working as manager of Common Grounds coffeehouse near Baylor. It was there she met Blake Batson, who served as manager after she left to live in England for a couple of years.
When she returned, they started dating, and he bought the business in 2012. The next year, they were married and became business partners in Common Grounds and Heritage Creamery next door.
Kimberly Batson said it’s exciting to be able to merge her business experience with her lifelong love of books. And she said she has a sense of legacy about being a downtown retailer. Her grandfather, O.Q. Quick, operated the old Piccadilly Cafeteria in downtown Waco in the 1940s and eventually became the company’s CEO. She said her grandfather was a role model to her.
“It’s amazing that we’re just one block over from the legacy he started in downtown,” Batson said. “I feel like we’re tapping into something that’s so much bigger than us.”