By Alexis Macklin
Running his hands over the secondhand books in his shop, Aaron Johnson picks up The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
Johnson is much like Huckleberry Finn, a boy who does not fit in with mainstream society and is always ready for another adventure.
But, eventually, even Huck Finn needs to grow up.
Johnson is the owner of Lawn Gnome Publishing, a bookstore and publishing company on Fifth and Roosevelt streets in downtown Phoenix.
The bookstore is a community gathering-point. Johnson organizes events to invite the community into his shop, ranging from poetry slams to Metalwulf, a heavy metal musical based on the epic poem Beowulf.
“We are more than just a bookstore, we’re what they call a second narrative space,” Johnson said. “A narrative space is your second home. It’s where you go and you create another place to hang out and a place to feel comfortable that’s away form college or away from work or away from school where you know people and you know what to expect.”
Lawn Gnome is more than just a source of income, Johnson said, but money is more important than ever before.
Johnson was recently married in March and is expecting a baby with his wife in December. His new family marks a new beginning in his life and he needs to improve his small business to keep himself afloat financially.
Johnson has relied on volunteers to run his small business. He currently only has one paid employee.
If he could make more money, he would hire more employees so he can spend more time with his family, he said. He currently works at the bookstore for 12 to 16 hours a day, five to six days a week.
“I use to say all the time that, ‘Unfortunately I have to pay bills,’ or ‘Unfortunately the world runs on money,’ but now more than ever though I have to figure out how to turn a profit,” he said.
For now, he said he is planning on taking care of his business and his child at the same time by revising the shop so he can bring his new born baby to work with him.
The next step, Johnson said, is to figure out the needs of his customers to get them to stay longer.
He has already added cards, gifts, an ATM and seating to try to keep his customers longer, Johnson said. He said he is now hoping to add food, drink and extra seating to the bookstore to make his customers comfortable.
“Our customers need to eat; they want to hang out all the time but they can’t,” Johnson said. “Maybe someday we will put a hotel on the lot. The trick is to keep people here and find out what they need.”
Johnson said he only sees growth for Lawn Gnome. His next big idea is to build a theme park in downtown Phoenix in the next five years.
“I love to figure out how to put creative minds together and figure out how to create a space that has so much so much creativity that we leave inspired,” Johnson said.