By Léo Azambuja
It has been 10 years since Ed and Cynthia Justus opened Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe. Their hard work and smart choices have paid off in the form of several awards and a successful business model that just keeps improving.
“Every day is a money day,” said Cynthia, adding there’s no such thing as failure in business — or even in a relationship — when you try.
Throughout the years, Ed and Cynthia reinvented their business many times, serving Indian food (Ed says they’re both great cooks), adding a coffee shop and changing locations. But what really stuck as a lucrative model was selling books, mostly second-hand ones.
Today, Talk Story Bookstore has somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000 books in its inventory. Each month, the store brings another 3,000 to 6,000 books, according to Ed.
“For us, our goal is to be as diverse as possible, to have something for everyone,” said Ed, who gets a kick by seeing customers come into the store and get excited when finding an unusual book they had been searching for a while.
“Books are cool, we’re both geeks,” said Cynthia, laughing.
“What’s really great is, this is a really fun commodity to sell,” Ed said. “To me, this is a product that actually changes people’s lives, it affects them in a way that is so deep and so personal, it’s so awesome.”
Books changed the couple’s lives too.
On Nov. 6, 2004, Ed and Cynthia opened Talk Story in a backstreet in Hanapepe, home of the famous Friday Night Art Walk. After only a month in business, they were faced with a harsh decision: If they paid rent for the store, they wouldn’t have money for their own rent and would become homeless.
As they pondered their future, a full double rainbow lit the sky. And the rest is history. Luckily, their homeless experience living inside a van lasted only a month, and on they soon moved into a small apartment.
In 2006, the business moved up the street, and in that same year they would receive an award for best second-hand bookstore on the island.
Since then, the awards just kept coming — 14 in total — including the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2010 Young Entrepreneur of the Year in Hawai‘i; the 2011 Hawai‘i Better Business Torch Award in the Small Business Category; the 2012 Young Professional of the Year award by the Pacific Edge Magazine; and most recently the 37th fastest growing business in the state of Hawai‘i, by Pacific News Business.
“We have grown 65 percent in the last two years,” Cynthia said.
Not bad for a former stage actress and musician who married a former blackjack dealer, both of whom had no experience in business.
“The fact that we have any awards at all blows our minds,” Ed said. “It’s incredible, we feel so honored pretty much everyday that we’re in this kind of business that is successful and we have a good time.”
Cynthia attributes their success partly to the increasing popularity of electronic books. People are reading more than ever, which in turn is bringing more people to her store looking for cheaper, second-hand books.
After all, Talk Story’s inventory is made up of about 80 to 85 percent used books, according to Ed.
Some of their success can also be measured in traveled miles. People come from all corners of the world to Kaua‘i, specifically looking for that little bookstore in Hanapepe they heard about.
Talk Story was featured in the New York Times last December at the top of a list of places to visit on Kaua‘i, has been featured numerous times in a nationally syndicated travel column in the Orange County Register, and has been ranked on TripAdvisor as a number-one shopping destination in Hanapepe.
It also has high ratings on sites such as Yelp and Google, has appeared in Japanese TV travel shows and magazines, and will soon be featured in an international travel magazine based in Italy.
For local residents who live past Puhi toward the North Shore and may think the Westside is too far away, if they spend at least $25, Ed and Cynthia offer $5 to help with gas expenses.
Ed and Cynthia may own and operate the bookstore, but they say their cat, Celeste, also known as The Boss, is the one in charge. She even has a video on YouTube, “I just want to meet your cat.”
Talk Story is open Monday to Saturday. Visit www.talkstorybookstore.com or call 335-6469 for more information.