When Beth Quarles was a second grader, her teacher left her with a love of reading that lives on to this day.
“My teacher Miss Little always loved reading,” Quarles said. “I remember doing the Book It program (with Pizza Hut), and I read over 1,000 books that year. She really made a difference in my life. Reading has opened up so many doors for me, and I want to open that door for others as well.”
Quarles is now inspiring a love of reading in the next generation with her small business, Paper Hearts Bookstore, located at 420 E. 21st St. in Little Rock’s Pettaway Square.
After Quarles earned a Master of Public Service degree from the University of Arkansas-Clinton School of Public Service, she became a second-grade teacher at Chicot Elementary School. In 2020, Quarles and a friend wanted to fulfill their dream of opening a bookstore, so they reached out to the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, based at UA Little Rock, for guidance.
“When we first started thinking about this idea, I didn’t even know where to begin,” Quarles recalled. “We had a skeleton of a business plan, and the ASBTDC helped us fill in the details to create our business plan and helped us make decisions for the future. It was helpful to have those business conversations with people who do this all the time.”
It wasn’t until 2022 that Paper Hearts Bookstore gained a storefront location. It started as a mobile business. Quarles and her partner would travel to businesses, schools, festivals, and nonprofits where they would have pop-up events.
Quarles greatly enjoyed the mobile aspect of the business and being able to bring books directly to the people. In 2022, she bought out her partner and launched a Kickstarter campaign to purchase a book truck.
“Two days later, I found this opening for a new development for micro stores with just 300 square feet,” she said. “I took the leap and got a brick-and-mortar location, but I don’t ever want the store to be the only focus of the business. I really feel that we need to meet people where they are.”
While the book truck isn’t ready to hit the road yet, Quarles said she is excited that the bookstore is starting a new Silenced Stories Book Club in November for adults who are interested in reading banned books.
Quarles advised women who want to start their own businesses to spend time with people who inspire them.
“Reach out to people who inspire you, ask them questions, and have them spend time with you,” she said. “When you surround yourself with people who are smart, creative, and excite you, they ignite a spark in you, and you end up doing that for others.”