by Terry Ambrose
Mysterious Galaxy is an independent bookstore specializing in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, young adult, romance, and horror. Founded in 1992, the store has been an integral part of San Diego’s literary scene for readers ever since.
After nearly 30 years in business, the original owners decided it was time to sell. Enter Matthew Berger and Jenni Marchisotto, a young couple who had lived down the street from the store and who call it “their happy place.” Matthew is a fan of fantasy and sci-fi, which makes Mysterious Galaxy a perfect fit.
Jenni and Matthew met in an English MA program and moved to San Diego when Jenni was accepted into a PhD program at UCSD. Jenni now teaches part-time at UCSD.
Matthew said, “I’m working as a writer in a marketing department at a tech company here in San Diego and working towards my PhD as well. So it’s fair to say that our background is very much dictated by our love of books and words.”
Until November 2019, Matthew and Jenni had no idea Mysterious Galaxy was for sale. They saw an Instagram post about the store needing new owners and a new location. That night, Matthew told Jenni he was interested in buying the store.
“Jenni was on board, because neither of us can imagine San Diego without it,” Matthew said. “We have so many good memories (and books) from the store, and we wanted to make sure our newborn daughter had the opportunity to experience those things as well.”
Of course, it wasn’t long before the world began hearing about something called COVID-19. Matthew and Jenni had to make changes—and fast.
Remaining confident, Matthew said, “While ‘global pandemic’ didn’t make it into our initial business plan, the long-term effects aren’t going to change our goals for the store too much, except in how we execute those goals. We closed the store to customers around March 21, and have not opened up since. We’ve instead done everything we can to provide the same community online through our social media channels. We’ve kept up our normal four to five events a week through Zoom. We’ve learned how to use the channels we were underutilizing better. We’re also working on new ways to get people involved and reading, such as hosting virtual screenings of documentaries with discussions.”
For new business owners, the changes weren’t easy to make. Matthew and Jenni had only been open for six weeks when the state shut down all non-essential businesses. They’ve learned how to work with most of the staff from home. They rely on Slack messages, Zoom calls, and Google Docs to communicate.
“There’s a lot that we’ve learned about being an e-commerce store and digital marketing that are just going to help us promote our messages and grow our community once it is safe to open back up,” Matthew said.
And then there’s that competitor called Amazon. After bankrupting large bookselling chains, many wondered if independent booksellers could survive. As it turned out, the Indies fared far better than their larger counterparts. According to Matthew, even though they’ve survived, the independent bookstores have been trying to play catch up. Matthew remains hopeful that will change in the future.
“These days, people are much more aware of how their purchases impact their communities—we’ve seen how much fantastic support Black-owned bookstores have been getting these last few months, and the importance of the books and authors they choose to read. The latter part is where Indie bookstores can play a huge role.
“Unlike Amazon, Indie booksellers can do so much more to help you find the right books, and Indie bookstores host so many community-building events and author events that Amazon is never going to provide. People are seeking those things out now even more since everyone’s home. If Indie bookstores can continue to provide the human element that Amazon can’t, they’re going to always have a place in the world.”
When asked what he’s currently reading, Matthew said he just finished the first two books in the series “A Chorus of Dragons” by Jenn Lyons. He added, “I’m working on Raymond E. Feist’s newest series, “The Firemane Saga.” I also love contemporary novels. Right now I’ve been into the work of Haruki Murakami and I’m looking forward to reading more from Giannina Braschi.”
Learn more about Mysterious Galaxy at www.MystGalaxy.com.
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