Home Bookstore Bookstore provides hands-on education for West Hartford students

Bookstore provides hands-on education for West Hartford students

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WEST HARTFORD — A year ago, Allie Nicholson-Gauvin was nervous about going to work at the Next Chapter bookstore.

Now the 20-year-old West Hartford resident practically runs the place.

The book store, which opened last Octoberis a program run by the City’s Post-Secondary Schools Program to give students ages 18-21 a place to learn professional and personal skills in a real retail environment.

For Nicholson-Gauvin, working at the South Main Street bookstore was his first job. She sorts the books, prepares for the opening of the store, takes care of the cash register and does whatever is necessary to keep the place running.

“I was super nervous last year,” Nicholson-Gauvin said. “I was like, how am I going to mess this up? I didn’t think I could do this.”

But with more experience under her belt, that changed and the store became a place she rather likes to go.

“I love it here,” Nicholson-Gauvin said. “It’s so good. I don’t have any previous work experience, but it makes me want to work. We’re like family.”

That family extends to customers, said Nicholson-Gauvin, who made her feel comfortable in the store — and she loves helping a customer any way she can.

“It’s always a good experience,” she said. “Everyone has been really nice. And especially when I can help people find a book or recommend an author, it’s wonderful. I don’t know how to explain it. It makes me feel good. It makes me proud .”

Nancy Pereau, the store manager, said the purpose of the store is to prepare these students for what comes next – their own next chapter.

“It was absolutely amazing,” Pereau said the morning of their one-year anniversary celebration. “I’ve had students who were afraid of the register who are now magicians of the register. I’ve had students who were afraid to talk to customers who have really come out of their shell. These are students who were normally very shy “We think it can help them out because the customers who come in are so lovely and it’s such a warm environment. I hope the students, when they leave here, will be comfortable working.”

As a business, Pereau said the boutique really took off. West Hartford welcomed and embraced the used bookstore and supported it with purchases and donations. But the real credit, she says, goes to the employees who shower the store with love and attention.

“They know it’s up to them,” Pereau said. “The store is theirs. It’s theirs. It’s their responsibility. It reflects them and their program, and they treat it as such. It belongs to me, so it reflects me, and that’s a si beautiful place because I did x, y and z to make it such a beautiful place.”

The warmth and love for the store is evident as soon as you enter the bookstore. If Joonbeom Hong is there, a customer is greeted with enthusiasm and enthusiasm – one of his favorite parts of working at the store.

The 19-year-old, who has previous work experience, has worked at the workshop for a year.

“This place is really great for me,” Hong said. “I really enjoy greeting customers and chatting with other people about policies, what the store is all about, and fun things everyone can participate in. We work as a team and it’s all good here.”

Melissa Caballero, director of student services at West Hartford, said the COVID-19 pandemic has made finding job placement programs more difficult for their students. So instead, they decided to create the bookstore, and she is happy with it. This is proven by the growth she has seen in students like Hong and Nicholson-Gauvin.

“One of the best attributes of this program is that it’s so authentic,” Caballero said. “It’s really challenging in a classroom setting, even though it’s a simulated experience, to provide the authenticity of this work and the natural things that happen in a construction environment. We really seen students blossom and grow in a different way by being able to offer them such an authentic experience.”

Every student in the program has a stake in the store’s success, Caballero said, whether that means they sort by donating sorted books to the school or they work directly with customers.

“We place students in leadership positions,” Caballero said. “When Allie came in today, she was the one who put up the board. The students now own the jobs. We coach them to be in those jobs so they understand what needs to happen. They do really great work.”