City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More

Featured Article

Beyond the Page

Strategies for Building Community and Fostering Connection From The Island Bookshop's Michael Rank

Article by Emily Leinfuss

Photography by Stephanie Snow Photography

Originally published in Venice City Lifestyle

Five years ago, if you had asked Michael Rank if he envisioned himself as the owner of a bookstore in Venice Island's historic downtown district alongside his wife, Aimee Odette, he would have likely said 'no.'  However, that's precisely what occurred when the couple opened The Island Bookshop in 2021. What’s more, the couple purchased the nearby Collector’s Gallery & Framery (see story "Art Matters").

Rank, a Vietnam veteran who earned his Ph.D. in Social Work in 1995, already boasted a successful and diverse academic career. His doctoral research focused on the challenges faced by veterans and their families during a time when it was common for individuals to endure multiple deployments without returning home. 

At that time, there was a scarcity of research on military families. “I gained popularity and traveled extensively across the country discussing these issues,” he explained. This evolved into addressing communication challenges within families and broader societal communication. 

Since 2017, Rank has been teaching classes on leading public discourse and communications in a doctoral program he helped establish at the University of Southern California. The program aimed to equip individuals with strategies to develop nonprofit or for-profit organizations that prioritize serving the greater good rather than solely focusing on profit. 

This philosophy also guided Rank's business plan for The Island Bookshop. Integral to the success of the bookstore is its role within the Venice community, emphasizing the importance of community building for societal advancement. To this end, Rank outlined five strategies he teaches in his courses and applied to develop The Island Bookshop's business plan:

  1. Develop a Vision: Craft a comprehensive vision to guide your business across short-term and long-term horizons. Employ a logic model to delineate program goals, intended outcomes, and sequential steps. This strategic blueprint, rooted in the theory of change, fosters clarity and sustainable growth. 
  2. Engage with Stakeholders: Prioritize engagement with stakeholders, including end users, to align offerings with their needs. Understand demographics, preferences, and constraints to enhance solution viability. Proactive engagement deepens community understanding and bolsters societal contributions. 
  3. Build a Comprehensive Business Plan: Translate the vision into a detailed business plan, meticulously outlining each developmental stage. Assess strategy feasibility, considering resource requirements, market dynamics, and risks. Establish a robust framework for sustainable success by anticipating future needs. 
  4. Direct Purposeful Marketing: Recognize marketing's pivotal role in amplifying reach and influence. Devote resources to tailored marketing plans that cultivate brand awareness and trust. Effective storytelling and value-driven messaging elevate brand visibility and societal impact. 
  5. Cultivate Customer Service Excellence: Cultivate exceptional customer service to foster meaningful community relationships. Address customer needs promptly and empathetically, prioritizing continuous improvement. Value feedback and satisfaction to enhance brand loyalty and ethical business practices, positively impacting society.

Forging connections is critical for building community and enhancing the greater good. Therefore, Rank is thrilled that The Island Bookshop/Collectors Gallery is sponsoring playwright Todd Wallinger’s “The Enchanted Bookshop” at Venice Theatre’s Pinkerton Theatre from April 5 to April 21, 2024. The show features characters from famous books, such as Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein and others, as they magically come alive to rescue a bookstore owner from a pair of bungling smugglers.  

Another example of this is the partnership between The Island Bookshop and–an international book website that competes with by connecting readers with independent booksellers worldwide for online sales. "They believe local bookstores are essential community hubs that fostered culture, curiosity, and a love of reading," Rank noted. 

Rank and Odette share this sentiment. When initially considering opening the business, they encountered skepticism. "People thought we were crazy. They'd say, 'Nobody reads books anymore.' But I had just read in the 'Harvard Business Review' that independent bookshops were thriving, partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic driving people back home and to local purchasing," Rank reflected.

"As professors, we advocate literacy and endeavor to provide opportunities for people to discover literature," Rank emphasized. This commitment includes hosting author talks by New York Times bestselling authors, organizing book clubs, and offering various community engagement opportunities.

"We take pride in the fact that a teacher from Venice High School wrote a grant and compiled a book of her students' poems," Rank added.

As for book choices, The Island Bookshop offers a diverse selection to cater to everyone's preferences. This includes titles from the New York Times bestseller lists, recommendations from Oprah, Barack Obama, Reese Witherspoon,, classics, and requests from locals. "When someone asks us to order a book, we always get an additional copy for the store," Rank concluded.

Forging connections is critical for building community and enhancing the greater good.

  • Michael Rank is the owner of The Island Bookshop & with his wife, Aimee Odette.
  • Classics, like Homer's "The Odyssey" are featured at the store.
  • Find New York Times Bestsellers like "Barbara" at the Island Bookshop.
  • The Gallery part of the Island Bookshop offers many artful treasures.
  • Collections are curated from a number of prominent book lists.
  • Kids' books and nook at The Island Bookshop.