By Chris H. Sieroty

Contributing Writer

While many businesses in Redlands beg for customers in a troubled economy, business is thriving at a small bookstore, the Frugal Frigate.

Housed in a former carriage shop at 9 N. Sixth St., the independent children’s bookstore has undergone a complete overhaul since Brad Hundman and his wife, Jana, purchased the business. Among the many changes are new paint outside, new graphics, a new awning, new flooring and improved lighting.

The store eliminated its adult section, which accounted for almost half of its floor space, but contributed only marginally to the store’s profits, Brad Hundman said. The section was eliminated because it was hard for the independent store to compete with the mass merchandisers on adult selection.

“We saw the potential of the Frugal Frigate when we purchased the store almost five years ago,” said Hundman, who declined to disclose the purchase price. “To be successful, we refocused the business to concentrate solely on selling children’s books.”

The Frugal Frigate used some of that space to install a science room, which mixes science books with volcano kits, among other items. Titles by authors such as Christopher Hitchens and Thomas Frank were replaced by an additional 6,000 children’s books by authors ranging from Nikki Grimes to Diane Adams and Marla Frazee.

The store has taken a different approach to bookselling. In an effort to expand his business, Hundman stages book fairs regularly at elementary, middle and high schools throughout the Inland Empire.

“We take the best books and hold book fairs at area schools, selling them at a discount to teachers,” he said. “It’s been very successful as teachers have bought hundreds of titles to share with their students. It’s also a way we can say thank you to teachers and all that they do to educate our children.”

The Frugal Frigate is part of a trend, according to Paige Poe of the American Booksellers Association.

“America has clearly reached a tipping point — people are choosing Main Street over malls,” Poe said in a recent news release. “Nationwide, people are renewing their ties to friends, neighbors and institutions in their cities and towns. We believe booksellers and other indie retailers are at the forefront of a movement that is already being embraced by shoppers.

The Frugal Frigate is a member of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association in Pasadena and is not a member of the American Booksellers Association.

Hundman’s bookstore also hosts book signings, most recently for Grimes’latest book, “Barack Obama, Son of Promise, Child of Hope.” Grimes is a New York Times best-selling author and recipient of the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.

The store will host a signing Jan. 18 by author Sid Fleischman at The Farm Artisan Foods, a restaurant at 22 E. State St. in Redlands.

“To grow our business, it has been crucial to hold signings to attract parents and their children to our store,” he said. “Holding signings at The Farm Artisan Foods has allowed us to expand our presence in the community.”

In 2007, Hundman created the Children’s Literacy/Literature Conference, which is held each September at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside. The program focuses on children’s authors and illustrators. Grimes, Adams, Graeme Base, Sonya Sones, Paul Brewer and Frank Beddor appeared at the last conference.

During the conference each author makes a presentation, visits with attendees and signs books. The Frugal Frigate will host its third annual conference in September, featuring authors Rosemary Wells and Laura Numeroff.

The Frugal Frigate has been drawing street traffic, but Hundman and his four-person staff know that could change because of competition from Barnes & Noble, Borders and “In any business today, the challenge is picking and choosing the best merchandise that will attract consumers to your business,” he said. “We can compete in the children’s book world. We hand-sell and tell people about a book. The mass merchandisers can’t do what we do.”

That personal attention has led to an increase in community recognition and a growing business.

“It’s working,” Hundman said. “We’re showing an increase in our gross revenues. We had a five-year plan when my wife and I bought the business, and we’re starting to show progress. .”

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