By: Brittany Hamor
Cinnamon Dokken laughs about her used bookstore started in the outskirts of downtown Lincoln in a warehouse basement. There were no shelves, no air conditioning and no heat. Just 700 books and a college senior with a big dream to someday have a successful local bookstore.
In 1992 that dream of opening an actual bookstore became a reality. This month Dokken is celebrating 25 years from the grand opening of A Novel Idea.
“I didn’t even have the first month’s rent in bank when we signed the lease,” Dokken said. “I took a risk and fortunately for me it worked.”
At the beginning of her venture she had no money to her name and could not even afford to hire any movers. She gathered all her friends and family to help her move the entire collection of books into the new location.
Her collection that started with 700 books had expanded to 20,000 during the time she was in the warehouse. Halfway through the move they ran out of bags and boxes. They moved the rest of the books by hand.
“From the start Cinnamon had so much help from the community she never wanted to take that for granted,” Katherine Bergstrom, in-store manager since 1994, said. “She’s made it a mission for the store to give back in any way we can. It’s easy to take the little things for granted and I’m blessed to be working in a place that recognizes that.”
Dokken never forgot the help the community gave to her and gives back to a variety of local charities.
“My dad used to always tell me growing up that we had to pay our civic rent,” Dokken said. “Ever since then giving back to the community has been central to who I am as a person.”
Every week Dokken does “Thank You Tuesday” and 3 percent of the gross sales go to a charitable organization.
“I didn’t just want to raise funds for well-known organizations,” Dokken said. “I also wanted to highlight organizations doing good work in the community and increase volunteers in the Lincoln area.”
Recently, Dokken has teamed up with Produce From The Heart. This organization is based out of Lincoln and has a goal to fight hunger throughout Nebraska.
“We collect donated, unmarketable or excess produce from local farms, farmer’s markets, community gardens and household gardens. The donated produce is then transported to a food pantry, church or soup kitchen within the community,” according to http://producefromtheheart.org.
Dokken stays personally connected to the community by co-hosting a monthly radio show on the Wimmins Show called “That’s What She Wrote.” The show is also hosted by Deb Andersen. Andersen has been a radio host since 1977 on KZUM 89.3 and helped Dokken create the podcast that allows women writers to have their voices heard.
“About a year ago I had an epiphany that I needed to have a book-related segment on the Show and that Cinnamon was the perfect person to do it. She’s knowledgeable and very connected to the literary community here,” Andersen said. “She has added so much to the show with her stimulating conversation and her wonderful smile! She’s the best thing that’s happened to the Wimmins Show in decades. I adore her!”
Dokken makes it a priority to make all her guests very comfortable and leads them into stimulating conversation. She’s thoroughly prepared and meets with her guests before the show.
“Since it is live, I always take my guest to Village Inn beforehand in order to avoid uncomfortable topics on air,” Dokken said. “It’s mainly just an excuse for me to eat pancakes and talk to really awesome people.”
Dokken reflects her unique personality in the community and makes sure her store has a unique identity as well.
“The most popular employees in the store are definitely the two cats,” Dokken said.
The “first edition cats” as Dokken called them happened by accident. The first was a gray tabby cat. It showed up in front of the store, so a customer brought it inside. The cat had a burnt paw and frizzled whiskers.
“We shut down the entire store that day to bring it to the vet,” Dokken said. “And then by that night I ended up with a new cat.”
The second was a black cat found in a terrible condition in an alleyway behind Dokken’s apartment complex. Dokken ended up taking the cat to the emergency vet.
After saving the cat’s life a neighbor recognized the cat as her own. Dokken refused to give the cat back since the neighbor had left it in such terrible condition. The altercation between the two escalated and soon the police became involved.
“I was so stubborn. I said I wasn’t doing anything until I talked to my lawyer and someone from the Humane Society,” Dokken said. “I was 25 at the time I didn’t have a lawyer. Luckily, they didn’t call my bluff.”
The sergeant eventually ended up in the store. He and Dokken discussed the cat situation for a half an hour.
“I finally just ended up telling him (the sergeant) the cat was mine,” Dokken said. “He told me to have a nice day, walked out and that’s how the cat ended up in the store.”
When the “first edition cats” died Dokken had a month-long contest for her customers to see where she should get her new cats.
“We ended up raising $1500 for the Capital Humane Society and $3100 for the Cat House,” Dokken said. “We donated the money to both organizations and got two cats from the Cat House, much simpler than the first edition cats.”
Although giving back to the community is a priority for Dokken, she also prides herself on outstanding customer service.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a freshman in high school. No matter how busy the store is she (Dokken) always helps me find what I need or helps me find a new book to read,” Mikayla Cruickshank, seven-year customer at A Novel Idea said. “I always leave here in a better mood than when I came in. You just can’t find that at bigger bookstores.”
Face to face connections is something the company did not want to lose during an age of many technological advances.
“We stopped selling books online because we missed having the one on one connections with our customers,” Bergstrom said. “We wanted to help customers find books they didn’t even know they were looking for and come back asking for more suggestions. That means we are doing are job well.”
Being an owner of an independent bookstore allows Dokken to create strong bonds with her customers and to those relationships to her are priceless.
“I am able to know our customers at an entirely different level than a bigger book store and I absolutely love that,” Dokken said. “I can tell you what most of my customers have on their shelves at home and that’s something you’ll only find at A Novel Idea.