A bright spot at the mall

Published 4:14 pm Saturday, May 14, 2016

The last time a big-box bookseller shut the door in her face, Fanita Moon Pendleton didn’t look back.

The Norfolk author — who works as a probation officer in Virginia Beach by day — says the growing number of independent authors in Hampton Roads have trouble getting shelf space in big, corporate-owned bookstores. So in May 2015, Pendleton opened her own venue, Urban Moon Books: The Indie Author Outlet, from a cart in Chesapeake Square Mall.

Even as some of the mall’s other big retailers, including Macy’s and American Eagle Outfitters, have closed, Urban Moon expanded first into a freestanding kiosk that was open daily and then, on April 1, into a 2,000-square-foot store in Chesapeake Square.

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“I love having control over the process,” said Pendleton. “The big chain bookstores have pushed independent authors away. They are willing to put us on their websites but not in their brick-and-mortar stores.”

“For us to have a presence, we needed a venue that didn’t require us to cower to Barnes & Noble,” she said.

A lifelong reader, Pendleton began writing books in 2011. She has published several fictional urban crime/romance books, including a three-book series, Shoot First Ask Questions Never; MOET: Money Over Everything; and Fist Full of Tears, a two-book series.

Nearly all of the books that line the walls of Urban Moon Books are self-published, with many authors from Hampton Roads. The books are consigned by the authors; once a month, Pendleton cuts checks for the writers based on their monthly sales, and she calls them whenever she needs to restock.

Urban Moon isn’t fancy and doesn’t overwhelm customers with an abundance of books scattered around the room. The books on the wall are divided up by genre: black history, urban, Christian, romance and children’s books. Save for a couple of card tables surrounded by chairs and some kid’s furniture in the children’s section, the store appears almost too open on a recent Wednesday night.

Often, that changes on Saturdays, when a different independent author comes weekly to give readings, chat with fans and sell books, Pendleton said. Several times a year, she brings in multiple authors — some from as far as Chicago and Atlanta — for special events. Some readings draw as many as 30 people into the store at a time, she said.

“I tell authors to use these opportunities to talk to readers and market their books,” Pendleton said. “For some people, it’s more difficult to engage customers when they are face-to-face.

“These events are a good way for people who aren’t natural communicators to learn to talk about their work,” she said.

She plans to hold special children’s activities every third Saturday. She is also thinking about other ways to draw in customers, such as fashion shows and painting parties.

“I try to think outside the box,” Pendleton said. “I want to keep things lively, for people to be engaged and to leave here with a positive experience.”

Looking at the darkened storefront across from Urban Moon, Pendleton says she is not worried about Chesapeake Square’s future.

“Not all change is bad, and I’m optimistic about the new direction the mall is heading,” she said. “I’m just going to focus on what I can do to serve our customers and authors.”

“We are not a Barnes & Noble; we can only build so fast,” Pendleton said. “But this is my passion. My heart is in it, and we have developed a loyal following of readers.”