08/13/2013 07:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Entrepreneur and the Roman Bookstore

I wandered through Rome's Trastevere -- a name that means trust ever -- near where the legendary actor Richard Burton once lived. The Roman neighborhood reminded me of my own in New York, the West Village, and, as I turned onto Via del Moro, I found it: The wonderful English bookstore I had come in search of, the Almost Corner Bookshop. I was looking for a history of the city and, as I browsed, started getting to know the store's 35-year-old owner, Edoardo Shina.

Edoardo was born in Rome and, after graduating from college, became a painter. He sold many of his paintings to a gallery in Stockholm, where the work of a particularly beautiful artist caught his eye. He got her email address from the gallery owner and started writing her letters about how much he appreciated her art. He soon visited her in Argentina, in Buenos Aires, where she lived and, a year later, they married and moved back to Rome, where they now have two wonderful children.

The Almost Corner Bookshop is open every day of the week and serves many local English-speaking residents and visitors, and John Cabot University in particular. They also partner with the prestigious American Academy. The store is charming and has a great energy. Famous authors have visited, including Simus Sheene, Connor Fitzgerald, and Roy Dollinger and more authors, many from the United States, are planning to visit soon. Amazingly, Edoardo does more than run this bookstore -- his other specialty is in archeology and he serves as president of a company, specializing in classics, called Coopacai Phoenix. He also runs a small archeological publishing company.


Anita Ross, Edoardo Schina, Dermott O'Connell

The shop was formerly called the Corner Bookshop, founded by Claire Hammond before Dermott O'Connell took over for 10 years. Dermott remained a business partner to Edoardo until recently -- he is now pursuing a new teaching job. A constant figure in the success of the bookstore has been Anita Ross, who has worked in the shop for 15 years and under each of the three owners. The success of the Almost Corner Bookshop owes much of its success to Anita, who loves the business as if it were her own.

I asked Edoardo for suggestions and advice to young entrepreneurs going into the book business. He said that his number one piece of advice is to love what you do. In his case, that is to love books. When a customer walks into his store, he is quick to talk with him or her about the books in stock and to find shared interest over reading. That is the joy to his work.


Fabrizio with college students

Secondly, he said, to remember that it's not about your own tastes but rather about the customer's interest. After all, the customers are your market and your product should serve them. He went on to offer the following points of advice, things useful to anyone beginning a small business:
  • Keep good records. Always separate your business from your own affairs so that you can clearly see your performance and progress.
  • Enjoy talking to people and serving your customers.
  • Make each customer's day by being enthusiastic, happy, and showing your love for literature.
  • Keep your team happy. Have regular staff meetings and offer a way for them to openly discuss any problems they may have.
Edoardo also took pride in serving as a mentor to his cousin, Fabrizio, a young man studying Chinese and English. A painter, dancer, and actor, Fabrizio had just returned from school in London and was the perfect bookstore salesman. It gave Edoardo great pleasure in serving as a role model and support for Fabrizio, both in and outside the bookstore.


Fabrizio, me and Edoardo outside the store

I ended up buying three books that I now love from Edoardo. I am looking at them now: a wonderful book of photographs by Ludovica Damiani, featuring Audrey Hepburn while she was in Rome; a book by Luca Dotti; and Models for Writers by Alfred Rosa. Like so many of the Almost Corner Bookshop's customers before me, I left that day happy and satisfied with my new purchases, knowledge of running a small business like this one, and friends in Edoardo and Fabrizio.