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Westport Book Shop provides employment to disabled community, expands business ambitions

The Westport Bookshop has been able to provide 3,500 hours of paid employment for 12 adults with differing abilities. Those hours are primarily spent organizing books and completing data entries on their online eBay store.
Caitlin Jacob ’24
The Westport Bookshop has been able to provide 3,500 hours of paid employment for 12 adults with differing abilities. Those hours are primarily spent organizing books and completing data entries on their online eBay store.

It’s a tranquil Saturday morning where a tiny book shop blends into its surroundings on the corner of town. The inside, on the other hand, is anything but quiet. That morning, volunteers and employees alike crowd the small shop, each with a distinctive grin on their face as they snap photos of book covers to be posted online. In another corner, an employee vigorously types, entering all of the details for a science fiction novel into the shop’s website. 

The Westport Book Shop has made it a fundamental element of its mission to support the Westport community by exclusively hiring employees of “differing abilities.” The bookstore has been around since 2021, accumulating an extensive network of volunteers and employees who have learned skills from data entry to organization through the selling of used books. After two years of successful business and ample donations from a variety of patrons in the community, the book shop is confident in its ability to commit to its online retailing through eBay. 

  “This is chapter two [of our business],” Westport Book Shop manager Katherine Carro said. “We are now expanding on how we sell books, and we’re training our employees. [We’re starting] a private pilot program to train employees and we’re trying to get funds for this.”

Ever since its grand opening, the book shop has claimed to make gigantic strides towards its mission to support the Westport Library and provide employment for those with disabilities. The store currently employs 11 volunteers and is striving to increase that number to 15 by 2024, with a couple prospective employees currently training. The store also occasionally partners with the Westport Library for book fairs to raise money for the library.

A ‘disability’ implies that our employees lack certain abilities when in reality, they just have different strengths.

— Westport Book Shop Founder and President Jocelyn Barandiaran

Because the book shop is a non-profit organization, its primary source of income is through various donors, including The Star Foundation and Westport Sunrise Rotary. All money made will ultimately circulate back into the community, including to well known locations such as The Westport Public Library. In these past three years, the book shop has provided the library with $130,000.

The book store prides itself on being as inclusive as possible. For example, the shop recognizes the wide array and nuance to many disabilities and elects to call its employees those with “differing abilities” rather than “disabilities.”

“The word ‘disability’ often has a negative connotation,” Westport Book Shop Founder and President Jocelyn Barandiaran said. “A ‘disability’ implies that our employees lack certain abilities when in reality, they just have different strengths.

Along with providing money to both employees and the community, the shop pairs each employee with a volunteer. Many attended the benefit on Oct. 25, and some even contributed to the artwork and literature displayed at the event and in the shop. The collaborative environment of the shop is an aspect many of the employees can attest to.

“[My volunteer and I] take turns bringing out the books,” book shop employee Chris Lau said. “[I also] help customers. And find what they’re looking for.”

The warm feelings towards the entire Westport Book Shop community is mutual. A Saturday at the book shop provides more than just a volunteer opportunity, but also a second family.

“I happen[ed] to come across a book shop [here],” volunteer Kenji Hosokawa said. “I saw Chris and I saw some other employees that were in there and I thought it would be a great opportunity.”

As a volunteer for over six months, he agrees that his initial impressions of the book shop proved to be true. 

With numerous volunteers from Staples High School, they agreed that the organization has the potential to form a partnership with students.

“I do think that we should bring this to the Staples community because it’s been a really great opportunity,” Volunteer Sadie Vincini ’25 said. “It’s awesome here. We could probably look into doing a stand at Club Rush or something.”

The book shop is seeking to partner with Staples students, according to Carro. The Westport Book Shop cherishes its many sponsors, donors and partners, as they are ultimately the fabric of the town that allows the company’s goals to come to fruition.

“Our number one customers are the best customers,” Carro said. “They are just so generous. They live when they walk into the bookshop, that there’s a place for the community to feel this warmth, community and socialization. They love our mission.”

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About the Contributor
Caitlin Jacob ’24, Communications Coordinator
Caitlin Jacob ’24 was initially drawn to Advanced Journalism and Inklings because of the class’s uniqueness. “I love writing in general,” Jacob said. “And it’s a great English class to take, especially because it’s unconventional.” In her free time, Jacob utilizes her passion for writing and words for another hobby - crossword puzzles. “I love that it’s a challenge,” Jacob said. “And when I go on my phone, my first instinct is to go on social media, but it’s a good way to be more productive with my time.”

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