Imagine this: it’s 2013, you miss reading and you decide to pick up a book by one of your favorite authors. You can’t find it anywhere and when you do, it’s too expensive. Then, a friend tells you about this website that delivers the latest affordable books to your doorstep. You trust their word and you decide to order. A few days later, you get your book and a free bookmark in a shiny sleek box with the name “Cherry Blossom Books”. You smile, then start reading, and the rest is history.
Cherry Blossom Books has been a true pillar in the book world in Egypt. That is why we wanted to get to know the woman behind that beautiful place we all find ourselves in. Somaya Salama founded Cherry Blossom Books in 2011, hoping to build the people of Egypt a local online store of a world-class standard. Aside from cooking and crocheting, Somaya Salama’s passion always lay inside a good book. So, after graduating from Business school, Somaya Salama decided to expand her passion and include all the Egyptian readers out there in it.
We sat down with Somaya to know more about her journey with Cherry Blossom Books!
Where did the idea for Cherry Blossom Books start?
The idea started when I couldn’t find the books that I wanted to read here in Egypt. I would look everywhere and would never find what I wanted. Eventually, I headed to Amazon to buy my books. With shipping and customs, I usually paid a lot of money to get them here. I wanted CBB to help people find the books that they want to read at an affordable price. Without the hassle of customs and international shipping.
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In 2011, I quit my job in March and started working on establishing the business. In September of 2011, our website was launched.
Have you always been passionate about books?
Yes! My mom loves reading, so she used to read me a book or a story every day before bed. I was a big fan of Goosebumps when I was a kid. I always carried a Goosebumps book with me in my bag while at school.
Besides Goosebumps, I grew up reading Harry Potter, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch and I was a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer novelizations. I still have all of these books at home.
Why did you decide to go for an online store before an on-ground one?
The reason why we decided for an online store is that it’s much more affordable than a physical store. Especially in the beginning. Also, the future is online, so I figured we can be a bit ahead in this regard.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you started?
Our biggest challenges will always be government rules and regulations. Every once in a while, there’s a new law that’s being passed in terms of import/export. You have to adapt the business to follow these rules. Sometimes it can be very tough and very stressful but it’s the only way forward.
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Customs in general is a big challenge as well. One small mistake and the entire shipment can be delayed. It can be frustrating at times.
Walk us through the process of getting the books here including signed copies and merch
It’s pretty simple actually. I just order the books from the publishers in the US and wait for them to be shipped to my forwarder there. Once I feel like I have a good amount of books, I ship them out to Egypt. Once they arrive, the process of customs clearance starts and then they’re released and that’s it. It’s just a matter of unpacking the boxes and pricing and arranging them on the shelves.
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In terms of signed books, some publishers have signed copies of certain titles available. I just check with the publisher and if I am able to get some copies, I do. I’ve noticed that a lot of people here love signed copies, so why not. I personally love having signed books of my favorite books.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
Meeting fellow bookworms. Having conversations with my customers on books is what I love about my job. It’s so much fun talking about books!
I am very blessed to have a job that I love.
Has it been hard for you since your business is a one-woman show?
Not really, I mostly get stressed when a new shipment arrives. But my parents do help me out whenever they can. I can’t thank them enough for that.
When I first started there was a lot of uncertainty. I wasn’t sure I would make it. A lot of times I thought I would reach a dead end and would shut down at any moment.
I’m glad I persevered because it has been worth it.
Cherry Blossom Books does not only provide a service, but also a great community. How important is that community to the growth of the business?
It’s very important. I started this business because of my love for reading and I wanted to encourage more and more people to read. Especially since when I started, reading wasn’t as popular as it is now. Without avid readers and books bloggers on Instagram recommending my bookstore, I wouldn’t have made it this far.
What do you hope for Cherry Blossom Books in the future?
I hope we can continue to Promote the Culture of Reading here in Egypt.
Is there anything specific you’d like people to know about your business?
We’re just a small independent bookstore here in Egypt. We love books and hope we can encourage you to read more because reading is fun!
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I’m very grateful for the support CBB has received over the years from our dear customers. I would like to thank them for that support.
It means a lot to me that a lot of people continue to put their faith and trust in us to get them the books that they want.
Somaya’s passion for books opened up an entire world for a lot of people. Cherry Blossom Books is a beautiful and welcoming space, all thanks to the atmosphere Somaya created.
You can check out Cherry Blossom Books here!