From the passenger side of a rented moving truck Megan Howe shouted, “Hey, there’s my bookstore!” to her partner, Jason Stanbery, as they drove by an empty storefront on Parkside Avenue. The couple, with son Oliver, were en route to their new home in the Parkside neighborhood, purchased “sight unseen” via a virtual tour, and beginning a new chapter in their lives in Buffalo.
It was Jason, a native of Decatur, Illinois, and a few-time visitor to Western New York who gave the big nod to moving, one morning saying to Megan “I have an idea, let’s move to Buffalo!” Megan’s sister located the Parkside neighborhood home, and sent along an online listing. “This house looks amazing,” said the couple.
Before the bookstore, Megan created her Alice, Ever After blog, “A journey into my own Wonderland. Sometimes children’s books, sometimes just adventures.” “I wanted to get the name in place, and hold onto it until I was ready to open the store.”
And she did open her bookstore – Alice, Ever After – in July of 2021, a two-decade-long dream. She is a former educator with a fascinating story of pursuing her three passions: travel, writing (children’s picture and chapter books), and education. The shop, located directly across from The Buffalo Zoo, is nestled along a block of other, local businesses, including the coffee shop Jam Parkside, and Fairy Cakes Cupcakery & Bakeshop.
“We sell books and toys and are also a place for community,” Megan says. “Most bookstores fill all their space with floor-to-ceiling shelving, but that’s not what you’ll find here. Families need space to move between displays with strollers and diaper bags on their shoulders and not worry about knocking things over.”
“My whole family helped put together Alice, Ever After. I’m a woman-owned shop but I’m not doing anything by myself.” Family members brought together shelving and tables for displaying books, delivered furniture, built the window steps area, filled planters out front, selected a point-of-sale system, and created the marketing.
She says proudly “I wear three hats: my mom hat, my teacher hat, and my book person hat.” Sitting and talking on carpeted steps, utilitarian seating along the windows that can double as a vantage point for story hours, two families enter for a perusal of the shop.
Everyone is greeted warmly, Megan mentions that either she or her employee behind the counter (an Oxford Pennant banner reads “Color outside the lines”) are able to answer any questions, that they can “discuss books for hours.” After purchases are made, the families are offered fun stickers. Jason comes to pick up Oscar, who’s been busy popping bubble wrap from a recent shipment of toys; the two are heading off to Explore & More.
Megan grew up on a 32-acre farm in West Valley, a place of “hard work, but it was really, really fun.” She invented games with her siblings, slept under the stars, and, along the way saw the movie “You’ve Got Mail” that features a children’s bookstore prominently. “No one teaches you that opening a children’s bookstore is a career option,” says Megan. Soon after she began writing children’s literature and would earn education degrees, imagining her bookstore along the way.
When asked how her bookstore is inspired by Lewis Carroll’s children’s fiction – Alice the star of those titles – Megan says, “I want the shop to be a place for discovery. I want children to learn to think in different ways, and to realize that books are windows to new worlds, and creative thinking – just like my classrooms were. My personal teaching philosophy is to travel, get out, and see the world.”
Alice, Ever After has a “magnet board” by their windows, a fun, interactive play area where children (and adults) can move around words and shapes. Nearby, children’s chairs offer places to check out new books. Regularly-scheduled in-store story hours and other performances will be posted on the shop website.
Megan has partnered with “UPward Design for Life,” a non-profit helping to furnish housing for newly-relocated refugees, former victims of domestic violence, young adults who have aged out of foster care, and former homeless individuals. Megan accepts donations of children’s books (new, gently-used, or via donations purchased at her shop), curating titles based on the children in a home UPward Design for Life is assisting.
Other plans for Alice, Ever After include turning the walls into a gallery of children’s artwork, with bona fide art openings for the exhibitions. “This will be a place where children also get to be the stars, celebrated makers in this welcoming community space.”