By Molly Cerreta Smith
Enchanted Chapters bookstore at 10880 North 32nd Street has only been open for a few months but it has been a dream of owner Andrea Montepagano’s that grew out of a need and a desire to create something that really didn’t exist — a bookstore designed and geared toward children with autism and specific sensory needs.
“As a mom of two kids with autism, I didn’t really have a lot of options for places to take them that were sensory friendly, where they could go and just hang out and feel comfortable,” she says, admitting that while many locations offer sensory-friendly days or events, she felt there needed to be a place specifically designed to meet these needs. So she made one.
Montepagano says they added on a specific area in the bookstore that serves as the sensory room. “We designed this room to be a place of relief for kids when they are feeling overstimulated or just have a place to relax,” she says. “There is not a lot of stimuli in there, no noise, the walls are bare and there is not a lot of bright color. It’s fairly muted, offers dim lighting and there are just a few curated toys that are educational and engaging. We want kids to know they can go in there anytime, stay as long as they want and just have a place where they feel comfortable.”
Part of this grew out of her own experience with her children when out at mainstream bookstores or shops. “For many kids, they end up feeling trapped in a store, and in most cases there is no respite from the overstimulation for those with sensory issues,” she says. “We just wanted to give these kids an inclusive opportunity, where they feel equal.”
Montepagano chose the location for Enchanted Chapters after moving to the 32nd Street and Shea area. Within a month of moving there, she started looking for a nearby location for the bookstore. “Our life is centered in this community,” she explains. “Our kids go to school here, and it just felt right. We like that we’re centrally located in the valley and there are a lot of other independently owned stores around us too. We didn’t want to be next to a Walmart. We like to support the local community and we enjoy getting to know our customers.”Only open for a short time, she says they already have repeat customers and she is happy to offer them so much more than just a shopping experience. “We offer something they wouldn’t get at a big box store. There is no interaction there, there are no relationships there,” she adds. “I think people are starting to realize the effects of shopping at big box stores and becoming more aware of the toll that not supporting local businesses directly has on the community. I think it’s getting better… but it could still be better.”
Outside of owning and operating Enchanted Chapters, Montepagano says she works at a regular job where 99 percent of her clients are independently owned businesses. “To me, it is so important to sustain that by shopping local and independent and putting money directly back into our community for the people that live and work here.”
In addition to offering books and a variety of educational and parenting tools for those on the spectrum, Enchanted Chapters also offers a variety of story times for kids of all ages, family trivia nights, homeschool-centric social groups and more that are inclusive to readers of all ages. The store offers events geared towards those with special needs as well as the whole family.
Regular events include:
Children’s Book Club: Meeting twice a month, this book club is geared for children in first grade through third grade. Enchanted Chapters choses popular and newly released titles along with corresponding projects that relate to the book that we work on as a group for each meeting.
Sensitive Story Time: This 45-minute event begins with a story board explaining the events throughout the session as well as a story, a sensory friendly craft, bubbles, and free play! Taking place before the store opens to the public, children are free to get up, play with the sensory toys available and leave the room/come back as many times as needed.
Nerds and Words: A weekly group event for teens, Nerds and Words offers time for teens to discuss new releases, classic favorites, and everything in between — including gaming, manga, graphic novels, and comics.
Middle School Book Club: This club offers a space designed for children aged 9 to 13 to get together and discuss the monthly book pick. This is safe space for children who would like to share opinions, alternate endings, suggestions and more.
Wednesday Home School Connection: Home School Connection is a social group hosted by Enchanted Chapters every Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. that offers homeschooling families an opportunity to meet and socialize with other homeschoolers and parents.
Early Reader Saturdays: Each Saturday morning, this early reader book club brings together children ages five to eight years old for story time featuring a new book and craft every week.
Family Trivia Night: On the third Friday of each month, families are invited to join in on family game night with prizes.
There are also multiple Toddler Time story times each week that offer a story reading, craft, open play/social groups, and more.
Of these events (and more), Montepagano says they try to keep it interesting, and to engage all age groups. Enchanted Chapters also hosts special events and are hoping to introduce a summer reading program, as well as sessions where parents can drop off their children to read, do crafts and more. “Maintaining reading comprehension over the summer is crucial — there are statistics that show students lose reading ability from May to August when they haven’t done any reading in between.” She hopes to help students retain their reading levels with fun summer programs.
Montepagano has so many wonderful goals for her store, but ultimately, she says, “I want to encourage inclusivity of everyone! My goal is to bring awareness to autism, educate people about what it really is, and encourage other stores to be more aware of people that are different. And as a parent, it would be nice to have more stores where children can go and not be inundated with sensory overload.” Enchanted Chapters is certainly setting the example.
For more, follow them on Facebook at Facebook.com/EnchantedChaptersBooks or visit www.enchantedchapters.com