Julie Bedingfield, our NJMOPreneur of the Week, was working as a lawyer when she was closing a Heddenfield bookstore. Looking for a change and a chance to restart her entrepreneurial spirit (she ran a cafe with her brother several years ago), Julie reaches out to her sister, a bookstore owner in Florida. The two agreed that this was an opportunity she should not pass up, and Julie set out to create an independent bookstore that did not have bookcases. Seven years on, Inkwood Books is a community space where people come together to read, hang out and catch an event like book signing, reading, poetry night, open mic or book club. We caught up with this busy Haddenfield mom of twins, Oliver and Tobias, 18, to discover the childhood lessons that taught her about the value of books, why she played her family in her decision to start her own business. Incorporated, and the local place she frequents when she’s craving sesame chutney like her grandmother used to make.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Growing up in Winter Haven, FL as the daughter of a schoolteacher mother and a citrus farmer father, I am a country girl at heart. My husband, Thomas Janssen, and I have been married for 21 years and have twin boys, Oliver and Tobias, 18, who have just started college. We also have a cat, Shadow. We lived in North Carolina before moving to NJ for my husband’s job. I love staying in Haydenfield – it has such a strong sense of community, and you can easily walk everywhere, which is especially great when you want to have dinner on the town.
Please share a bit about your career background and the “ah moment” that led you to open your bookstore. I was a practicing attorney working in Philly and reading sadly all day—I knew I needed a change but wasn’t sure what it would be. Then, one day as I was walking through downtown Haydenfield, I came across a small bookstore closing in, and I texted my sister, who owned the original Inkwood Books in Tampa, Florida. We agreed that Haddonfield needed an independent bookstore—one that would be a real gathering place for people—and I knew that’s what I had to do. Before I went to law school, I owned a coffee shop with my brother and a friend, so I would have owned a business. But while I was excited about the prospect, I probably wouldn’t have done it if there was a great bookstore around. I’m glad it worked out that way.
What did your past experience as an entrepreneur teach you? I learned how hard a business owner worked—I knew I wouldn’t be able to sit around all day reading books. When you own a business, it’s like having another child. You are responsible for it and you have to care for and nurture it, whether it is convenient or not. The concept of opening a business and its creative parts is a lot of fun, but you still have to take care of the “business end” and do things like clean the toilets and take out the trash.
Do you have a favorite book or genre? I have always been a great reader- growing up, my siblings and I were never allowed to get bored because there was no excuse to pick up a book and read. I don’t necessarily have a favorite, but To Kill a Mockingbird was my mother’s favorite book. When I read this in middle school, my mom and I discussed it together. We had an adult conversation, and perhaps for the first time in my life I saw how books connect people in a unique way.
What’s the best thing about running Inkwood? I have to live in this place and am surrounded by bookish people. They love books and love to read and discuss books, and they also love and appreciate those who write books. I am grateful for all the connections I have made in this community as I have this store.
What do you hope your sons have learned from you owning Inkwood? When I was thinking of leaving the law, we sat down as a family and let them be a part of the decision-making process as it would affect their lives as well. There was a significant change in my career in doing so, and I think the lesson is that it’s okay and good to take risks and try new things, and it doesn’t matter what field you’re in. Get out what you put in it.
Please share a story about Inkwood Books that will stay with you forever. One of our first clients will come to the weekly with his son and his aging father, Dr. Javidian. He spoke only Persian to her, but he would sit in the green chair for long periods of time and read books of all different genres, including the edgy, feminist one, while she looked at the store with her son. Sometimes I would take pictures of them and post them on our Instagram site, where I gave them my own hashtag. Little did I know, she got a kick out of that, and after she passed away, her daughter came in with an envelope in Arabic—a generous gift she left for us. Since then, I’ve put up a plaque with his name on the green chair, and I also plan to start a non-profit to funnel books to places in need. It struck a chord for me to realize that we meant a lot to him. When you hear stories of making a difference in the world, I think people often feel like they need to do something big. Still, sometimes it’s just being who you are and influencing people in small ways that will make the most difference in a real, meaningful way. I think this is something we can all learn, no matter how young or old we are.
How have e-books affected your business? When I opened, e-book sales were going down, and book sales were up, and from my experience, the pandemic only escalated it because it’s a very different experience in your hands. I think people are trying to get out of their devices and live more current and less plug-in lives.
What are some of your family’s favorite places to visit in NJ and what do you like to do together? My people are super outdoorsy, so when we go out as a family, whether hiking or kayaking – I just try to keep up. The Delaware Water Gap and NJ Pineland are favorites.
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses, and what do you love about them? For the most part, I never chain, and in this part of the state, there are a lot of great small businesses. My newest favorite is The Refill Market because it reduces the amount of waste you put in the world and makes you feel good. I’ve used them dozens of times for dishwashing soap, laundry detergent, and many other things, and their products are all natural and luxurious. I also love El Nopalito, a Mexican place right in front of us. My grandmother was Mexican, and her sesame sauce is the closest to coming back with her. And Opportunity is my go-to shop for gifts. It’s inspiring too, and the owner makes everything incredibly beautiful.
What is your best advice for a NJMOMpreneur to start their own business? Hire people to help you from the beginning. Mothers try all this, and it’s not sustainable. Have someone help you from day one so you have some backup.
For more information on Julie Bedingfield and Inkwood Books, please visit their website, Facebook, and Instagram pages.