Being a little fish in a large pond is fine by children's
bookstore owner, Alex Uhl.
Since 1989, Uhl has been providing reading books for children
through her store, A Whale of a Tale, in University Center, across
from UC Irvine.
And while there are bookstores in the immediate area also
selling children's books, Uhl says she doesn't even consider
"To be honest, I try not to even think about competition,"
said Uhl, who was born in Greece. "I try to Stay focused
on what I am doing, because if you don't you can really make
yourself nuts. It's important for me to try and be an individualist.
"We Pride ourselves on being extremely well-versed and
up-to-date on what we sell," she continued. "I personally
spend a lot of time researching and reading the books myself;
and the entire staff is equally knowledgeable. Any bookstore
can be a wonderful place to spend quality time relaxing with
a good book, listening to a guest speaker or just taking in the
Uhl said she first thought about owning her own children's
book store when her now grown son was an infant.
"I'd always visit this little shop in Corona Del Mar,
and I just fell in love with the idea of owning something similar,"
she said. "Years later, it went up for sale, but there were
too many people trying to buy it, so I decided to continue my
research and found that Irvine was lacking in children's bookstores.
Today, in retrospect, I think it worked out for the best. This
way, I didn't have to fill someone else's shoes."
Uhl said that when she looks back on her beginnings, she is
truly amazed by how far she has come.
I'd never had my own business, just the passion for children's
books," she said. " It was something that I wanted
Since the early days when Uhl started out with the little,
the shop has now been computerized and three years ago, she moved
into a bigger retail space within the same center.
"Now we're heavily into community outreach," she
said. "I've established excellent rapport with publishers
and we have hosted some pretty big authors. But even from the
beginning, we've catered to the community and that hasn't changed
even though we have in other areas."
While she works six days a week (the store is closed on Sundays),
Uhl said she doesn't mind because she loves her career.
"I've really put my heart and soul into this from the
start," she said. "It's not easy being an independent
bookstore owner - you've really got to be passionate about it
or it isn't going to work."
ALEX UHL's "A
Whale of a Tale" Bookshoppe is a well-known fixture in the
University Center. In her hands is the Caldecott Medal winner
" So You Want To Be President?"
At A Whale of a Tale, Uhl dishes out great kids' classics.
as well as events to keep them coming back for more. In fall
1999, the 1,6000-square foot shop, packed with books ranging
from mysteries to how-tos, was hosting J.K. Rowling, author of
the wildly popular "Harry Potter" series, and more
recently, the store featured award-winning author and illustrator
"Because we're not in a mall or a large visible center,
we rely on attracting people through special events," Uhl
said. "we bring in entertainment such as author presentations
, workshops and story reading hours."
She added that she sells more than books. For instance, A
Whale of a Tale offers small gift items, including stuffed animals
and cards, which are scattered throughout the library-like store.
"I'm Greek, so I like a good selection," she laughed.
An Article by: Debbie L. Sklar
For Irvine World