- Author: Amanda Myers
- Category: Valley News
- Issue: Aug 2012
Valley entrepreneurs are foregoing banks in favor of online “crowd-sourcing.”
“The dirty faux paint on the walls makes it look like a little gnome cave,” Aaron Johnson says.
This is fitting given the name of the charming bookstore we’re standing in: Lawn Gnome Publishing. As owner Johnson, 30, shows me around half of an old bungalow on Fifth and Roosevelt streets in Downtown Phoenix, his eyes light up like Willy Wonka leading children around the chocolate factory.
“These bookcases are made from wood I found in an alley,” he says proudly. In fact, everything about this winsome bookstore/publishing house/poetry venue is homemade, hand-built or donated, including the books themselves, ranging from the newest releases to the mustiest of collectibles.
The store is a product of a community – nay, nationwide – effort, thanks to ingenious social media site Kickstarter.com. Using a fundraising idea dubbed “crowd-sourcing,” the site, launched in 2008 by three guys in Manhattan, allows for creative ideas to be funded through donations. Projects range from documentaries to music tours to art installations to something called a “mobile garden,” which happens to be a garden in the bed of a pick-up truck that travels to schools to teach kids about the wondrous world of botany.
“Kickstarter doesn’t just want people pitching a business,” Johnson says. “It has to be a creative, community-focused project.” He started his publishing company out of a 12-foot-by-12-foot room, printing local poets’ chapbooks and selling them in a 4-foot-by-4-foot “store” within the space. Though the store was open only on First Friday, he sold enough handmade books to pay the rent for the space, which sprouted the idea to open a bookstore.
“I don’t have bank credit,” Johnson says. “I’ve never owned a car or bought a house. I paid off student loans, but I learned from that [experience] that I didn’t want to borrow money from a bank because it’s going to quadruple in 10 years anyhow.” So Johnson turned to Kickstarter. He made an introductory video about his project (a requirement by the site), set his goal of $2,000 with a 10-day deadline and began to spread the word on Facebook.
The risk factor is low – if the goal amount isn’t raised by the deadline, no one gets charged and the project’s owner isn’t out any money. Johnson says he liked the urgency of the all-or-nothing approach, and for him, it worked. He raised $2,228 in 10 days. Kickstarter, it should be noted, takes a 5 percent cut, but that’s fine with Johnson.
Lawn Gnome opened in February, immediately skyrocketing to the coveted No. 1 spot on Yelp’s Downtown bookstore ranking. And soon, Johnson says, he’ll expand. More bookshelves, more books, a place for schools to bring kids on field trips, a stage and, of course, more gnomes: “The backyard is going to have a mushroom theme to it.”