Kiona Gross set out nearly two years ago to return to her home state of California and open a bookstore.
After a decade in Georgia working for CNN, the San Diego native spent five weeks driving up and down the coast in search of the perfect location to get into a business she had relatively no knowledge of.
A chance pit stop in Carpinteria showed Gross and her now 18-year-old daughter, Sidney, all they needed to see.
Next month, her children’s bookstore — named Curious Cup after something her daughter read in a book — will celebrate its two-year anniversary at 929 Linden Ave.
“The community has been incredibly supportive,” Gross told Noozhawk last week. “We seem to be a good fit for this town.”
Sitting in the cozy, brightly painted space, Gross explained that the store was originally supposed to include a coffee shop, which confuses some customers who see her storefront logo with a mug and two hardcover books.
A cuddly teddy bear, miniature toy town and more extensive children’s book section fill what would have been that space.
The complicated process to get permits for the café may have been for the best, Gross said, as a majority of her business is generated from children’s picture and chapter books.
“I’m kind of glad it didn’t work out,” she acknowledged. “I think it’s so important to teach kids. I like kids reading. Kids like coming into the store.”
In addition to books and greeting cards, customers can find an atypical assortment of knick-knacks handpicked by Gross.
Fake plastic teeth, theme lunchboxes and quirky stationery are among items that have earned Curious Cup a nickname as the “white elephant store” for holiday gift exchanges.
Curious Cup has also become a community-gathering place, with a back room set aside for meetings, children’s parties and other events. The shop also accommodates story time and children’s art displays.
Gross has taken a marked interest in the Carpinteria community, serving as an ambassador with the Carpinteria Valley Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the Rotary Club of Carpinteria Morning, Carpinteria’s “First” Committee and other organizations. She is a Santa Barbara Partners in Education volunteer in Carpinteria schools and an advocate of Carpinteria High School’s Junior Achievement program.
“She’s infectious in a good way,” said Lynda Lang, president of the Carpinteria Valley chamber. “You can’t be around her without moving forward with her. She’s always coming up with great ideas on how to promote our community. She makes each person in her shop feel special.”
Curious Cup has just been named by the chamber as its Small Business of the Year.
Lang said it’s inspiring to see families shopping together in Gross’ store, especially during a time when e-books and television have a hold on many tech-savvy children.
Although the store has cornered the children’s market, Gross also stocks books for adults and can order customer requests.
“She’s like the energizer bunny,” Lang said. “It’s great to have a children’s bookstore here. With all these electronics and computers, it’s nice to see kids reconnected with reading.”
Gross, who lives just blocks from her store, can determine exactly what a customer is looking for just with an age and a list of general interests.
Her friendly dog, Molly — fondly referred to as “the store cat” — follows Gross around the store, sometimes startled by visitors because she has lost hearing in her old age.
Gross said her shop is new enough that it hasn’t yet turned a profit, but she’s hopeful community members buying local will help breathe life into her dream store.
“I do think there’s a book out there for everyone,” said Gross, noting the joy she feels turning on a child to reading. “That’s what makes your day.”