‘A place to come together’: Student-run bookstore opens in Trumbull

TRUMBULL — Sophie Polatsek has been one of the many dedicated employees looking to get Next Chapter Books ready to open.

Polatsek, 21, is involved in the Trumbull Public Schools ELITE (Educating Learners in Transition Environments) program, which provides services, including job training and work opportunities, for students with disabilities. Next Chapter Books, 2 Daniels Farms Road, is ELITE’s new bookstore and coffee shop. The store had its official grand opening Wednesday.

“My favorite part was the ribbon cutting,” said Polatsek of the event. “I thought it was very awesome to hear all the nice thing people had to say about the bookstore.”

About 50 people attended the opening. The store sells used books and features a cafe offering coffee and baked goods.

Though there was a soft opening about a month ago, this was the store’s big introduction to the general public, said John Wrobel, a program manager with ELITE.

“The store was as full as it’s ever been,” he said.

That was great to see, Wrobel said, because the business is at least partly intended as a community gathering place.

“The intent of this bookstore was not only for the students to have a place to learn work skills, but for the community to have a place come together,” he said.

Next Chapter Books is just the latest business where ELITE students have worked and learned valuable skills. But, Wrobel said, at many of the other places they’ve worked — including FYE in the Westfield Trumbull mall and some area schools — students were assigned tasks based on what needed to be done. At Next Chapter, Wrobel said, they were given jobs based on their skill sets.

For instance, Polatsek is good at social media and has strong organizational skills, so she’s done inventory and helped manage the store’s online presence. Other students are strong in art, and have designed flyers and sandwich boards for the store.

“Having our own place allows us to give our a students a more rounded, sculpted opportunity to learn job skills,” Wrobel said.

The store was originally slated to open in early December, but got pushed back, largely due to supply chain issues.

Those who attended Wednesday’s grand opening included Trumbull Superintendent of Schools Martin Semmel, who cut the ribbon, assisted by one of the student employees. Like Wrobel, Semmel said the store is a great opportunity both for the students who work there and for community members looking for some place to hang out.

“I think we’ve taken a space that was empty and we’ve turned it into a beautiful place for people to come by, grab a book and grab a cup of coffee,” Semmel said, adding that “There’s a lot of skills our students are able to pick up by being part of this business.”

Trumbull economic and community development director Rina Bakalar also praised the business.

“We have received great feedback from the local community and from people out of the area about this new business,” she said. “It is a destination for folks who love books and cafes. When they learn that it is also a business that allows students to gain job skills, people get even more excited and want to support the business.”

She said she hoped to see more grand openings around town in the future.

“We need more of these unique businesses in Trumbull and particularly in Trumbull Center,” she said.