Once upon a time, children’s bookstore owner Dave Shallenberger could only dream of buying a bookmobile for his shop. Today, that dream is closer to reality, thanks to a handsome grant from bestselling author James Patterson.

In September, Patterson pledged to give away $1 million of his own money to independent bookstores around the country. The Decatur, Georgia-based Little Shop of Stories is one of the lucky shops, and Shallenberger says the money will literally make a dream come true.

“We do a lot of book fairs and send authors to schools, and we wanted to do something a little more special than open our cars and put in books. We talked about getting a vehicle, like a pickup truck [or] a an old school bus, and converting it into a bookmobile,” says Shallenberger. He says it would have taken him and his partner Diane Capriola years to save up the money to purchase and renovate the truck.

The grant is welcome news to Little Shop of Stories, which opened in 2005.

“By the time we started rolling, the recession hit,” says Shallenberger, who previously worked as a lawyer. He says the store managed to weather the economic downturn thanks to a lot of community support, but admits that competing with companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble is a challenge.

“We try to offer things they don’t, which is basically really, really good service … We do a fantastic job at recommending books that are appropriate both in terms of content and difficulty for our customers and we try to engage ourselves in as much as possible in the community,” says Shallenberger.

But despite the competition and the increasing digitization of reading, Shallenberger says children’s bookstores are more important than ever. The grant helps affirm the importance of small booksellers, he says.

“When an author as big as James Patterson understands the plight of independent bookstores, pays attention and puts his money where his mouth is – it’s a feeling of tremendous gratitude,” says Shallenberger. While he didn’t share the exact amount of the grant, Shallenberg says the first wave averaged $5,000 apiece.

While Shallenberger will now be able to turn his attention to the bookmobile, he’s still going to make time to highlight his new favorite author.

“[Patterson] writes some great children’s books that are not really well-known. The ‘Maximum Ride’ series was done very well, and more recently there have been books about a kid comic, ‘I Funny,’” says Shallenberger. “I’m sure we’ll do a special section for them.”

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