Creative collaboration: Florence women to open bookstore, art studio under one roof

  • Lexi Walters Wright, who is the owner of High Five Books, set to open Oct. 7 at 29 North Maple Street in Florence, assembles shelves at her store, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. She shares the space with Lindsay Fogg-Willits, the owner of Art Always, who plans to open Sept. 23. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lexi Walters Wright, who is the owner of High Five Books, set to open Oct. 7 at 29 North Maple Street in Florence, assembles shelves at her store, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. She shares the space with Lindsay Fogg-Willits, the owner of Art Always, who plans to open Sept. 23. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lexi Walters Wright, left, the owner of High Five Books, and Lindsay Fogg-Willits, the owner of Art Always, are readying their businesses for opening.

  • Lexi Walters Wright, left, the owner of High Five Books, and Lindsay Fogg-Willits, the owner of Art Always, work to get their businesses in order Tuesday for their opening Oct. 7 in a space they share at 29 N. Maple St. in Florence. STAFF PHOTOS/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lindsay Fogg-Willits, the owner of Art Always, who plans to open Sept. 23, sorts scrap paper in her store at 29 North Maple Street in Florence., Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. She shares the space with Lexi Walters Wright, who is the owner of High Five Books, set to open Oct. 7 —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Books rest on a shelf at High Five Books at 29 North Maple Street in Florence, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. The store is set to open on Oct. 7, but Art Always, a business sharing the space, is planning a Sept. 23 opening. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2019 11:02:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Two Florence women are joining forces to open High Five Books & Art Always, a collaborative space hosting a children’s bookstore and art studio.

Lexi Walters Wright, owner of High Five Books, and Lindsay Fogg-Willits, owner of Art Always studio, will open their businesses at 29 N. Maple St. in Florence on Oct. 7. The business partners join a growing trend known as co-retailing, where two businesses operate out of the same space.

“The idea of High Five Books is an invitation for young people to connect with one another, to connect with their caregivers around stories,” Walters Wright said. “And also, to connect with their own passions.”

But simply opening a bookstore did not appeal to Walters Wright: “I know we would need to have a reason for folks to be coming in other than just buying books,” she said.

The solution rested with Fogg-Willits, whom Walters Wright knew as an art teacher for her 8-year-old son, Arlo. Together, the two women realized that their respective areas of expertise had the potential to complement each other.

Walters Wright has worked with families for over 20 years as an editor, writer and nonprofit employee, and also has a master’s degree in library and information science. Fogg-Willits, meanwhile, has been running Art Always for 18 years, with the studio currently located at the Brushworks Arts & Industry building on Pine Street in Florence. Additionally, she previously taught art at Northampton High School and ran Deerfield Academy’s Summer Arts Camp.

“There’s such symbiosis between reading and creating,” Walters Wright said, adding that she has noticed this connection between the two activities with her son Arlo: “What he reads inspires what he creates, and what he creates really piques his interest on what to create next,” she said.

With High Five Books & Art Always, Walters Wright wants to “help other kids find that spark,” she said.

“We want the kids who come in to feel excited by the books that we’re offering, but also excited by the classes Lindsay offers,” Walters Wright said.

The partnership also felt like a “natural collaboration” to Fogg-Willits.

“I think it’s all part of that creative process,” she said of the connection between literature and visual arts. “Absolutely, being an artist is not just being a visual artist, but using that creative self in other ways.”

“Our hope is that we provide a place where people want to come,” Fogg-Willits said, “and that in doing that people who might not necessarily venture into a bookstore end up looking at books because they’re there for the arts, and vice versa.”

‘Kid Row’

The opening of High Five Books & Art Always will contribute to a growing trend of child and family-friendly businesses in the downtown Florence area, Walters Wright said. It’s a phenomenon she has called “Kid Row,” pointing to other nearby businesses such as Little Roots music studio, Kid Stuff consignment store, CyclePottery, and Freckled Fox Cafe, which includes a children’s play space, and the Miss Florence Diner. The area is also within walking distance of the Lilly Library and Look Memorial Park, she pointed out.

Fogg-Willits also hopes the new collaboration helps foster the family-friendly atmosphere of downtown Florence.

“That’s a pretty amazing array of offerings,” Walters Wright said. “You could definitely spend a day in downtown Florence visiting kid-friendly retail spots.”

“We’re kind of book-ending this section of town where things are happening,” Fogg-Willits said. “So I’m hopeful it means families will seek out Florence as a place to spend time during the day.”

The bookstore will cater to an age range roughly spanning from toddlers to young adults, Walters Wright said, but will primarily stock graphic novels, middle-grade reads, and some picture books, with hopes of highlighting works by local authors and illustrators. Fogg-Willits offers lessons for children ages three and older.

Walters Wright noted that the businesses will also follow in the footsteps of Strada & Essentials, two downtown Northampton shops — a shoe store and a stationery and gift shop, respectively — that joined forces as co-retailers in the fall of 2017 at 108 Main St.

“Women working together to create these experiences for shoppers, for consumers — it’s very exciting to me,” Walters Wright said.

Fogg-Willits also looks forward to establishing another co-retailing partnership in Northampton.

“I think if more and more people sort of came together to just share in experiences and from a business standpoint, just share costs, we mutually benefit,” Fogg-Willits said, “which is a great thing.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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