Future Stores Seattle 2019

June 05 - 07, 2019

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Here's How One Grand Desert Island Books is Reading the Stars for Great Literary Experiences

brought to you by WBR Insights


There are few pleasures greater than perusing the shelves of a well-stocked bookstore. However, with a celebrity curated twist, One Grand Desert Island Books has created a truly innovative retail experience.

Journalist and editor Aaron Hicklin founded One Grand Desert Island Books in 2015 out of a desire to create a new kind of bookstore. Starting with a 550 square foot location along the Delaware river in Narrowsburg, New York, designed by architect Jon Buono, the store concept is designed along the age-old question of what a person would take with them if they were stranded on a desert island. For many years the question has been posed by radio phone-in DJs to cover everything from records to technology, but now Hicklin wants to apply it to books to create an innovative retail experience for his customers.

While the question itself is not an original one, the people it is asked of at One Grand is what makes it a unique idea.

Famous Recommendations

One Grand canvasses the opinions of some of the world's most famous faces on the ten books they would take with them to a desert island.


Once the list has been acquired, One Grand puts the range on display and promotes the books in-store and online. Customers can purchase each book individually or as a complete set. Some of the celebrity lists currently available come from a diverse range of stars, including Kehinde Wiley, Neneh Cherry, Tom Hanks, Tilda Swinton, Gabrielle Union, Greta Gerwig, Van Jones, Yara Shahidi, Jeanette Winterson, Michael Stipe, and loads more besides. The recommendations on offer range from Women Who Run with The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes to Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

"I approach people who, I think, practice their craft really well," said Aaron Hicklin. "They're not celebrities so much as celebrated individuals who do what they do excellently. The books are a reflection of their development and their evolution. But they're also just great recommendations."

Each curated list has a short bio of the celebrity and explains why books are so important to them.

Innovative Retail Experience

The store itself has an incredible sharp and modern design which evokes the feeling of someone's private study rather than a retail outlet.


Pressed tin ceilings and walls juxtapose brilliantly with classic 1940s American white ash paneling. The store comes complete with a writing table, which encourages visitors to write a note to a friend or loved one. There are also empty shelves with reservation cards, helping to promote the arrival of the next curated list that's soon due.


The store's open kitchen offers tea - including a bespoke rooibos blend named Little Dickens - and mince pies at the weekends, served by Hicklin himself, all helping to create an innovative retail experience which feels very different from the average big chain bookstore.

"The project has required me to play literary investigator, doggedly tracking down a few quirky or elusive volumes," said Hicklin. "Raymond Pettibon, for example, his list is crazy. Like, seventeenth-century treatises on urn burial. Where else would you find this?" The artist Ryan McGinley, for his part, included a beautiful 1960 illustrated children's book called About Caves, and the director John Waters named out-of-print treasures such as Philip Hoare's Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant.

Hicklin eventually has plans to expand the concept to other locations as well as even more innovative experiences such as offering curated book selections in hotel rooms or even reading concierge services on airline flights. The company also offers limited edition JCRT plaid shirts inspired by the covers of five of its curated books.

And, in case you're interested, Hicklin has also provided his own top ten desert island books.

Final Thoughts

By combining a real love of books, the draw of celebrity endorsement, and a beautiful retail location, One Grand Desert Island Books has come up with a great and innovative retail experience which is sure to delight readers of all shapes and sizes.

The final word goes to One Grand Books' founder Aaron Hicklin.

"I'm running this store out of completely selfish motivation. I get the benefit from being surrounded by books in this beautiful location, engaging with people in an environment that I create and that reflects my sensibility."


You can hear One Grand Desert Island Books' Founder, Aaron Hicklin, speak at Future Stores West 2018 this June at the Sheraton Seattle, WA.

Download the agenda today for more information and insights.