UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS — For many years, one of Katy Herbold’s dreams was to open a bookstore that focused on children’s and young adult books.
That ambition became a reality Monday when Sidekick Coffee & Books opened at 1310 1/2 Melrose Ave. in University Heights. As the name implies, the business is one-half area coffee shop, one-half local bookstore.
“The community had been really eager for a coffee shop to open in University Heights,” said Herbold, who moved there seven years ago. “It’s a very walkable community, not too far from downtown but far enough that we were hoping for our own community space.
“Where we are located has a lot of traffic passing by, going to and from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. It’s also very busy on UI game days.”
Her background played a role the decision to open a bookstore that sells literature for children and young adults.
“I have been a first-grade and second-grade teacher, taught English as a second language and worked as an event planner for the University of Iowa and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.,” said Herbold, who has three young children. “I’m hoping to bring all that together by planning some unique events at the coffee shop for children and some stuff for adults as well.”
Herbold worked with a book distributor and the American Booksellers Association to select the new books that she offers in her shop.
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“I order my books from a distributor that works with other independent bookstores,” Herbold said. “I was sent a list of about 6,000 titles based on the square footage of my store. I went through each and every title myself and decided whether I wanted to sell it in my shop.
“I narrowed it down to what I felt I could start with and the quality that I wanted to offer. The children at my house also have strong opinions about what they will read.”
Herbold and her family visited a number of bookstores around the country in the past few years to see what was offered.
“I know exactly where they are going to go and what they want me to buy,” she said. “They like to read non-fiction animal books. We found that really to be lacking (in the area), so I have an entire section of non-fiction animal books in my store.”
Herbold said the way children are engaged with a picture or story book is something they remember for a long time.
“I’ve also tried to select some engaging series in the fiction area,” she said. “Of course, we have the Harry Potter series and the new illustrated version of that comes out in October. We are pretty excited about that.”
Herbold said the idea of combining books and coffee appealed to her.
“Coffee and books to me just go hand in hand,” she said. “I love coffee, and my husband and I have sampled a lot of coffee around town and around the country.
“We landed on Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago. They helped us get the right machines to make their coffee and provided us training here and in Chicago.”
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The shop’s 12 employees include some experienced baristas as well as those who are learning very quickly, and all of them like to talk about books.
The name of the business, she said, was inspired by two things.
“I always think that sidekicks in stories are my favorite characters,” she said. “I like Piglet in ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ Sidekicks always having the moral compass to keep the main character on track,” Herbold said. “The other inspiration was my three boys, who I refer to as my sidekicks. I wanted to do something besides their names because they were my inspiration for the bookshop.”
A small stage will be installed later this week for story times and events such as open mic nights for music and performance.
Herbold is looking forward to Saturday when the Hawkeyes will be playing in Kinnick Stadium up Melrose Avenue from her new seven-day-a-week shop.
“We’re hoping people will stop in for coffee before the game and look around the bookstore,” she said.