During the past 13 years, Linda’s Story Time has become a place where young and old alike go to catch up on local news, share some laughter and, yes, purchase a book, puzzle, puppet, and unique gifts.
Founded by Linda Devlin, the business on Monroe Turnpike has become as much a community center as a bookstore.
“Linda is so friendly and so helpful,” said customer Jane Fitzgerald, who likes to bring her grandchildren to Linda’s Story Time whenever they visit from Massachusetts.
“They love coming in,” Fitzgerald said. “I usually buy them gift certificates so they immediately want to come here and look around.”
While recently in the store, Fitzgerald fell in love with — and purchased — a photicular book called “Safari.” With the use of a technique called scanimation, the jungle animal on each page appears to be realistically running and moving as the reader slowly turns each page.
Devlin said most adults can’t put the book down. “Everyone who comes in to the store loves this book,” she said. “It’s one of those books that’s perfect to give to the whole family. It’s a great present for kids because, with the recent push in the schools to get kids to read nonfiction books, this will most certainly keep their attention.”
Since opening the store, Devlin has acquired the reputation for having a keen awareness for her customers’ needs and also for what is popular and interesting in the world of books.
“As soon as you pick something out, Linda can tell you details about it,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s not that many independent bookstores out there where you can get this kind of information. She knows all of her books so well.”
Devlin believes it’s her inherent love of books that helps her to match readers with the appropriate book to read or give to another. “I love books, and I love being around books all day,” Devlin said. “It’s exciting for me to be able to share my love of books with everyone who comes in.”
Even with those who come in to make package deliveries. A naturally gregarious individual, Devlin makes friends with everyone who walks through her doors — including Linda Raymond, a UPS employee.
When Raymond made a delivery, she saw Devlin unpacking a box filled with stuffed animals. Raymond spontaneously picked out a giraffe to give to her 4-year-old grandchild. “It was a big hit,” Raymond said.
Worked in greenhouses after college
Despite working for more than 30 years in the bookselling business, Devlin didn’t set out to own an independent bookstore.
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A horticulture and greenhouse management major at the University of Connecticut, she worked in local greenhouses after graduation. However, she found it boring.
“Horticulture is the same every year,” Devlin said. “I wanted more variety.”
Devlin worked for a year and a half at Waldenbooks before being hired at Klein’s of Westport, a retail store that sold stationery, stereos, toys, and books. She was manager of the children’s books department when the store closed 14 years ago.
Becoming an owner
Devlin was surprised when the Westport store’s owner, Stanley Klein, offered to be her business partner and finance an independent bookstore that Devlin would operate.
Until receiving this generous business proposal from her good friend and mentor, Devlin had assumed she would look for work in another bookstore. The idea of being the owner “never occurred to me,” Devlin admitted.
Devlin said she believes Klein wanted to feel as if the store’s book department could “live on.”
“His father, Henry Klein, who founded the store, loved the book department,” she said.
In June 2012, Linda’s Story Time celebrated its 13th anniversary in Monroe. “I’m now, of course, thrilled that I had the opportunity to do this,” said Devlin, a Stratford resident and Fairfield native.
Devlin often partners with teachers, parent teacher organizations, and even the Monroe Farmers’ Market to promote reading. She hosts book signings by children’s authors and illustrators and specialty programs, such as last summer’s “Where’s Waldo?” scavenger hunt.
Although she doesn’t have a full-time staff, Devlin is grateful for three close friends who pitch in whenever she needs a hand — Bobbi Duffy-Hidalgo, Dawn Horton and Colleen McMellon. “I call them my ‘posse,’” said Devlin, laughing. “They were all customers who became my excellent friends.”
When she first opened Linda’s Story Time, the store’s mainstay — and her unofficial cheerleader — was her mother, Ildara Klee. She passed away three ago in January. “My mother helped me out from day one,” Devlin said.
Customers had gotten to know and admire Klee, and shortly after her death, some Stepney Elementary School families presented Devlin with a handmade quilt in honor of her mother. Devlin proudly displays the quilt behind the register.