Remarkable Retailer: Running a successful, independent retail shop.
For Sandi Torkildson, being a successful retailer is above all about creating a sense of community.
And that is one thing that traditional stores still have over online outfits, says Torkildson, the longtime owner of A Room of One's Own bookstore, 315 W. Gorham St.
"Part of the whole thing about bookstores is that you can browse and discover things, and you just can't do that same kind of browsing online," says Torkildson, who co-founded her store in 1975. "Finding something that you don't even know you're looking for -- I think people really appreciate that experience and support us because they want to be able to do that."
Torkildson is a fixture in downtown Madison, serving on countless committees, mentoring young entrepreneurs and fostering other small businesses. She notes that the federal government classifies small businesses as fewer than 500 employees.
"That's a pretty big small business," says Torkildson. "A lot of times, the really small locally owned businesses don't have that big of a voice. I think it's important that somebody speaks up for them."
In need of more room for growing inventory, Torkildson moved her bookstore three years ago down the block to the space previously occupied by Avol's Books.
Women's studies, LGBT fiction and nonfiction continue to be the store's hallmarks, but shelves have expanded to include Avol's used book collection and such new general interest categories as history, science fiction, sports and children's literature.
"All the Borders stores closed, and it opened up the opportunity for us to move and expand," says Torkildson. "We knew that there was a need to have a good general bookstore in downtown Madison, and it just happened at the right time."
Torkildson stresses that acumen and luck are not the only ingredients for success. She credits passionate people, too: "We've had wonderful staff people who have worked really hard, who really love books and really get excited about books."
Because of this, customers come to depend on the staff's knowledge. "It's just like when you go to the liquor store and all the big companies write their little blurbs about their wine," says Torkildson. "I don't know much about wine, but I always like it when there's one actually handwritten by somebody who says it is a really good buy."