Balboa Island bookstore site turns a page

Kristen Horgan and daughter Charlotte browse through books at the newly opened Island Tales Book Shop.
(Susan Hoffman, Daily Pilot)

As of Saturday, Island Tales bookshop has taken over the space occupied for 25 years by Martha’s Bookstore on Balboa Island.

Retired teacher Donna Mantei and nearly retired teacher Susan Nielson, both of Mariners Christian School in Costa Mesa, have partnered to open the kid-centric business at 308½ Marine Ave.

The two longtime friends and co-workers tapped their resources to get started after deciding to treat retirement as an opportunity to venture into unfamiliar territory.

“It’s all new and exciting,” Nielson said. “It’s great for our retirement to look forward to our new page and not sit at home and do nothing.”

They secured a lease in December and began the work necessary to remake a shop that hadn’t had much work done in a while.

The duo collaborated with the landlord on much of the renovation, which included doing electrical work and tenting for termites. The inside of the shop was nearly gutted. Mantei and Nielson replaced the floor and walls, installed new display cases and lighting fixtures and painted.

“It was fun to see the transformation,” Nielson said. “We’ve made it kid friendly with more open space and room for strollers.”

The women said they are well aware of the hurdles facing independent bookstores but share a passion as educators for giving children a place to read and be read to.

“They need a space that invites them to enter the world of stories and books,” Mantei said."In the age of all the technology, there is a need for young developing minds to turn pages and go low tech.”

They opened Saturday to a steady flow of foot traffic.

Toting 7-month-old Charlotte, Kristen Horgan said she was excited to see the bookstore and all that it promises.

“Charlotte loves books and now she can meet some other little babies at story time,” Horgan said.

Besides the selection of books catering to children from birth to middle school, Island Tales will host story time and offer the shop for special events like birthday parties and baby showers.

“I can’t believe how supportive the island has been,” Mantei said. “Our neighbors have been peeking in and have expressed their excitement. We’re excited to be a part of the community and can’t wait to make an impact on the island. It’s such a special place.”

Island Tales sells only children’s books at the shop but offers a selection for all ages through its website