Cinnamon Dokken has never written a resume – she’s never needed one.
At the age of 22, Cinnamon and a college friend opened A Novel Idea Bookstore. What started out as collecting books turned into a business, and 25 years later the shop – dozing cats and all – is still thriving in downtown Lincoln.
“Let’s go sit in the poetry section,” said Cinnamon as she grabbed a small stool to sit on.
It was easy to tell she was in her element in the bookstore. The conversation flowed quickly as she waved at the occasional customer and looked relaxed and at home.
But owning a bookstore for 25 years has given Cinnamon a lot of perspective. She said she’s learned what decisions are worth stressing about and which ones she can make on a whim. It hasn’t been easy to build and maintain her shop, but it’s been a challenge that’s defined her story.
The bookstore’s first location was in a basement space near 16th and O streets. It had no heat, no air conditioning and they often blew the fuse with their electric teapot, space heater and stereo.
In the winter they gave out cups of hot tea to customers to keep their hands warm and when the lights went out they used flashlights to shop. It wasn’t ideal but it worked.
“When you’re used to being poor and tired and cold, it’s not a sacrifice to work a little harder and have a business,” said Cinnamon. “You just duck down and go.”
Cinnamon graduated from college in December of 1991 and the following year she found a new, bigger space for the bookstore – her current location on 14th street between O and P. Truth be told, Cinnamon said, they didn’t even have the first month’s rent in the bank when they got the space, so they hustled.
They sold books while moving into their new space and quickly got to work building new bookshelves and personalizing the shop. After hours, the shop became somewhat of a gathering place for the neighborhood. Bands would often crash there after playing a show at Duffy’s or small groups of friends would host late-night book talks over a bottle of wine.
Cinnamon watched as A Novel Idea developed its own culture and feel. Over the years the bookstore became a place for regulars, the curious college student or out of town visitors who wanted to find a local shop to peruse.
So much life has happened in the shop, both for the community and for Cinnamon. Her daughter, Isabel, was born shortly after the 10th anniversary of the shop and grew up stacking books and taking naps between the rows of shelves.
Starting a business was a risk, especially as Cinnamon acquired a mortgage and had children, but she was never afraid of being a small business owner. It’s a fearlessness that she attributes to her parents.
Cinnamon grew up in Pawnee City, Nebraska, watching her parents own and run their own businesses. Her mom owned a flower shop and her dad managed his own dental practice. The two of them were hard workers who were a big part of their small hometown.
“My dad always used the phrase, ‘It’s important to pay your civic rent.’ ” Cinnamon said. “In a small town there was a lot of opportunity to be involved, and that was part of life.”
While Lincoln is a different town than Pawnee City and owning a bookstore is a different business than a flower shop and dental practice, Cinnamon applies her father’s wisdom to her own work.
After 25 years, Cinnamon’s downtown bookshop is doing well. She’s seen more customers and sold more books this year than in years past – a surprising fact in the age of online sales and digital books.
But for Cinnamon this trend has only reinforced her love and commitment to the Lincoln community.
She’s spent her life building a business that’s served generations of readers, which she said is one of the greatest honors of her life.
“I want to set an example for my children that this is how you live life,” she said. “You celebrate and you contribute and you try to encourage the people around you to be their best selves.”
The way Cinnamon started her business was not glamorous. It took work – lots of work – but it’s also a work that she deeply enjoyed and was committed to. It’s work that’s defined her story and will continue to shape her future.