The Reading Bug: A Bug’s Life

May 12, 2021 | 2021 Articles, Books & Tales

by J. Alan Hartman

This is the latest in our new series where authors and others share about their favorite bookstore!

Downtown San Carlos, California, is that kind of retail corridor that people imagine when they think of shopping in a small town. Mind you, San Carlos isn’t really a small town, but it’s always had that charm and feel. Laurel Street is a straight line featuring virtually zero chain stores of any kind, save from a Peet’s Coffee and one or two others. The San Carlos powers-that-be always imagined the downtown district as being local mom-and-pop shops, and they strive to keep it that way.

Located a stone’s throw from the post office and across the street from the five-star Cask Wine Bar, lives a bookstore that has become the center of the community: The Reading Bug.

The Reading Bug is a specialty bookstore, in that, although they have a small section for adults this store, it is all about the kids in your life. Whether it’s newborns, preschool, middle readers, or young adults, the shelves and tables of this store are packed with every imaginable kind of book or gift for the little person in your life.

There’s a few giant wooden trees scattered around the store, all signed by famous children’s’ book authors who have come to make appearances. Everyone from Tomie dePaola to Jennifer Holm and more grace these trees (and walls) with their signatures and original artwork. A giant space in the back is the scene for storytimes, themed-birthday parties, author appearances, reading groups, and in the past has been a home to exercise classes for pregnant mothers.

How do I know all this? I’ve been fortunate enough to have been an employee at this store. In the late 2010s, store owner Lauren Savage looked at my retail experience (including many years as a Waldenbooks store manager) and decided to take a chance on me to join her merry band. I came to know her mother-in-law Diane (sooo wonderful to work with), her husband Brandon, and her most adorable daughters. This is a family-owned store, and each one of the handful of employees was made to feel every bit a part of that family.

Lauren is easily one of the top three best bosses I’ve ever had in my life, as she inspired me not only as a person but as a business owner. Every day found her hands-on in the store, whether it was putting up a new display, hand-picking books or crafts to carry in the store, engaging personally with her customers, conducting storytime with kids holding rapt attention to her engaging and friendly voice or just joking around with us employees. Lauren is the heart of The Reading Bug. People come to the store to see her, to ask for her advice for gifts, to see what she’s doing next. She is beloved by all who come in contact with her. She makes The Reading Bug a safe space for kids and parents alike.

Lauren is an actress and a singer, but she’s also a strong, savvy businesswoman. When every other bookstore forgets what it means to take care of the customer and really listen to what they want, Lauren could teach them a thing or three. She’s always had her finger on the pulse of “what’s new next” and has always been ahead of the curve. When the pandemic shut down many other stores, Lauren figured out how to use her giant windows in the front of the store to make shopping easier for her customers. She started The Reading Bug Podcast to record original stories for parents to enjoy with their kids. She started a book box subscription program for all ages that has hundreds of subscribers each month. She moved storytime out to the sidewalk and the curb so she could continue to provide a much-needed entertainment experience to parents and their kids. Every innovation on her part continues to show the people of San Carlos how dedicated she is not only to her store, but to her patrons both young and old.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t miss working at what we affectionally refer to as The Bug. It was the warmest, happiest, safest place I’ve ever worked. Knowing that Lauren, Diane, Brandon, the kids, and all the rest of the great folks of The Bug continue to enrich the lives of San Carlos and its residents brings me a lot of joy. There’s a ton of kids out there enjoying reading thanks to The Reading Bug’s efforts. There’re a lot of parents who have found a trustworthy voice in helping them educate their kids. There’s a community that’s found a space that they can claim as their own and feels like a part of their own family.

It’s a Bug’s life. And it is, without a doubt, my favorite bookstore.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode just went up

J. Alan Hartman was a Waldenbooks store manager for many years in the mid-90s, before becoming a floor manager for the Stanford University Bookstore. Today, he’s taken his love of books in a different direction as Editor-in-Chief for Untreed Reads Publishing.


  1. I live in the area and will check it out, although my youngest relative is now 10 1/2 years old.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.