Young bookstore owner discovers dreams can come true
BY RACHEL INSWASTY
A decade ago, Meghan Wood was secretly exchanging romance novels with a close friend. The excitement of receiving a new book helped her interest in literature blossom. Little did she know that she would be the owner of a bookstore that also thrived on the exchange of books.
The Book Exchange, which has been part of the Port St. Lucie community for more than 20 years, has a new owner. At the young age of 23, Wood is now the new owner of the local shop.
"Sometimes it doesn't feel real to me, while other times I'm so aware because of my workload," Wood says. "It's really been a wonderful experience and I'm taking it day by day."
Growing up in South Florida, Wood lived a full life, surrounded by an abundance of family and close friends. Her mother and father, both pharmacists with doctorates, emigrated from Jamaica.
Wood attended Coral Springs Christian Academy for much of her education and remembers those years fondly. They were formative for her in many ways, one being that it was the start of her interest in reading.
"I began reading romance novels around the age of 14," Wood says. "That's around the age I was starting to be a little 'boy crazy' as many girls are, and reading those was really fun."
START OF A LOVE AFFAIR
Wood and a friend would trade books back and forth. This harmless exchange, their little secret, launched Wood's love of literature.
Upon graduating high school, Wood attended Florida State University in Tallahassee where she majored in psychology and minored in business administration, a course load that would help her in the future.
"Besides psychology, my favorite courses always had something to do with literature," Wood says. "I read Beloved by Toni Morrison and it changed my entire world view, it changed me, really."
The book had such a profound impact on Wood, she had its title tattooed on her arm.
In 2018, Wood moved to Port St. Lucie, where her mother had been living for some time and transferred to Palm Beach Atlantic University. Wood commuted to college five days a week and graduated in 2020. Later, she took a job as an assistant teacher at a preschool for 2- and 3-year-olds, where she had difficulty caring for the young toddlers.
"I was struggling a bit at the preschool," Wood says. "It was a lot to take on, the responsibility of caring for and helping these small children in every way all day long. It was not for me."
Several months into her preschool position, Wood's mother, Suzette, was visiting a pharmacist friend who happened to mentioned that the owner of the neighboring bookstore was looking to sell.
Wood's mother took the initiative and stopped in The Book Exchange to talk with owner Jeanné Giddens and couldn't wait to share with her daughter what she had found out.
"I was always saying, half-jokingly, that my dream would be to work at a bookstore," Wood says laughingly. "But I've said a lot of things, such as 'I want a million dollars,' just daydreaming really."
SHOCKED AND EXCITED
When her mother shared the news, Wood was shocked and excited at the opportunity. At first, she thought it was too good to be true, but once it sank in, she jumped at the prospect of owning her own bookstore.
"I was so focused on leaving [the preschool job] to find something I truly enjoyed," Wood says. "I think back, and I was probably a little naive about the ins-and-outs of running a business, but it was one of the best decisions I have made."
Since taking over The Book Exchange, Wood says she has been welcomed with open arms by the community. Other small business owners have reassured her that the shop would continue to thrive and helped her to succeed in any way they could.
"It's been nice to have that feeling of being included and supported by my community," Wood says. "It was something I didn't know I needed until I had it."
The new business owner has been contacted by local marketing groups that offered to assist. There is a tight-knit community within the world of small business owners in the county, and The Book Exchange has always been part of it.
EVERYTHING IS STATUS QUO
In keeping with Giddens' request, Wood is keeping true to the shop's core values and has decided not to make any big changes. She knows her customers appreciate keeping things familiar and the shop had gained a large number of regulars since its opening more than 20 years ago. When Wood sees a familiar vehicle pull up to the shop, she quickly grabs whatever books she knows are next on that customer's reading list or a selection of books she believes they will like.
When assisting someone who is new to the shop, Wood asks what they like to watch on television and works around that.
"I have several regulars who have become great friends who I can talk with on a weekly basis," Wood says. "For instance, there's a girl named Dora, she's a high school senior who now comes in regularly to trade books. She will come in after big school events to hang out and we just talk about her life, dreams. I've really enjoyed those types of connections with my customers and community."
The Book Exchange has an estimated 10,000 books - paperbacks and hardcovers. The shop's inventory is broken down by genre or subject, and then organized by author name in alphabetical order. Customers can receive a 20 percent in-store credit for the publisher's price on softcover books and 10 percent for hardcovers. The credits can be used to cover up to 50 percent of their next purchase.
"We try to make sure the books we take in on trade are of good quality and not too worn," Wood says. "But sometimes we take what we can get depending on what we need to get back in stock. Overall, most of our inventory is in pretty good shape."
One of Wood's first goals since taking over as owner is to set up a website. She also would like to open a second location in the future so customers on the other side of Port St. Lucie have access to its large collection of affordable books.
THE BOOK EXCHANGE
ADDRESS: 8719 South US 1, Port St. Lucie
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday
SOCIAL MEDIA: Instagram and Twitter:
The Book Exchange PSL; Facebook: The Book Exchange