Updated Dec. 9, 12 p.m.
It took a conference, a Facebook post, two days of wishful thinking and car rides around Elk Grove for Emily Autenrieth to come up with the mission and name for A Seat at the Table Books.
After meeting trans photographer Eden Torres at a summit for people changing the world through Facebook groups, she saw one of Torres’ posts: “I wish I could start a LGBTQ bookstore.”
Autenrieth, who had just moved to Elk Grove before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with her family, said they were struggling to find places where Autenrieth’s queerness and her son’s autism were fully included. She described the post as the “spark that lit the fire.”
“I thought, ‘Elk Grove really does need a community space that welcomes everyone, that celebrates diversity and normalizes educational conversations and where families can have a great time – gosh, if somebody could do that, that would be so cool!’”
She spent two days thinking about a name that would fit the vision, and when “A Seat at the Table” came to her, “I knew there was no going back. I had to do it.”
After initially starting as an online store and neighborhood pop-up at places in Elk Grove like Savvy House Coffee Bar and NeighborGood Market, A Seat at the Table opened a permanent bookstore and cafe location on Dec. 11, 2021. The brick-and-mortar storefront features a kids’ play area featuring a vintage camper, murals from local student artists and a conference room with a Live Edge table open for reservation. There’s also a quiet room serving as a sensory decompression space for nursing and neurodivergent people who may be overwhelmed by the bookstore environment.
Rachel Bittner and her son, Devin Bittner, 2, play and eat at the A Seat At The Table Books in Elk Grove, Calif. Thursday, Dec. 8 2022.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
In its first year of business, the physical space has become a hub for multiple reading groups, community events and educational conversations centered on awareness months and civic engagement.
That’s been possible, Autenrieth said, through multiple partnerships with local businesses and city organizations. While setting up the brick-and-mortar location, Autenrieth shadowed booksellers at Capital Books and learned about running a cafe from Jamaar Anderson of Savvy House Coffee Bar.
“What I have found is that these small industries that have been hurt by the rise of massive global corporations is that we all want to see each other succeed,” she said.
In June, A Seat at the Table Books worked with the Gender Health Center in Sacramento and the Elk Grove Diversity and Inclusion Commission to organize Elk Grove’s first Pride weekend.
Making space for marginalized identities and people of all ages to be celebrated is a crucial part of the store’s mission “to build community, uplift the oppressed, and smash the kyriarchy [the social system that keeps all intersecting forms of privilege and oppression in place] through the power of books and coffee.” In October, the business also received the 2022 Above and Beyond Award from the Elk Grove City Council Disability Advisory Committee for its work.
A Seat at the Table’s mission resonated with Amanda Scott, a customer-turned-employee. She worked as a barista at the cafe before becoming the space’s business manager.
Latte art is presented to a customer at A Seat At The Table Books, a store and cafe in Elk Grove, Calif. Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
Scott and her family had just moved to Elk Grove from the Carmichael and Orangevale area when the pandemic started, and sought community in their new neighborhood. She met Autenrieth while A Seat at the Table was still a pop-up business.
Because Autenrieth hoped to make the bookstore a comfortable place for families — and because of Elk Grove’s demographics — the children’s book section comprises just under half of the in-store book selection. Almost 27% of Elk Grove residents are under 18, according to 2021 Census estimates.
“They curate their books to make sure what they have in their possession and what they’re bringing into the community are in alignment with their values and their mission, and I was so impressed by that,” she said.
In the future, Scott says she’d love to see more people from the community come out and participate in events like the bookstore’s Poetry Night, which happens the first Friday of the month.
“I think there’s some social anxiety about coming to a space you haven’t been to before, especially with people you haven’t met, but this is such a warm and inviting space,” she said. “It’s such a spectrum of people of tons of different ages and identities that … you’re going to fit in there.”
Emily Auternieth wears "pieces of flair" on a lanyard at A Seat At The Table Books, a store and cafe in Elk Grove, Calif. Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
Currently, A Seat at the Table Books is one of 10 independent bookstores in the greater Sacramento area participating in the Sacramento Holiday Book Crawl, in which a minimum $10 purchase at each location will come with a free item. The Elk Grove store’s social media is filled with posts advertising events, art shows, panels and fundraisers held in partnership with local vendors, schools and organizations.
Along with hoping the bookstore and cafe can become more visible to the greater Sacramento community, Autenrieth is excited for more partnerships in the coming year, especially with groups that share the bookstore’s mission and values. She’s set up a private Facebook group where community members can directly share feedback about the bookstore.
“Our idea is that we’re all about connection — we are about being by the community, for the community,” she said. “Small businesses are from your community, they’re staying in your community. The dollars that you spend at these stores impact your community in much bigger ways.”
A Seat at the Table Books is located at 9257 Laguna Springs Ste 130, Elk Grove, CA 95758 in Laguna Gateway shopping center.
- Friday, Dec. 9:
- 3 to 7 p.m.: Shop local vendors (Kell’s Canvas, Blank Story, Lola x Kenneth, Selah’s Bows, Rie.Design).
- 6:30 p.m.: Performance by the Sheldon Breakers, a break-dancing group of Sheldon High School students.
- Saturday, Dec. 10:
- 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Shop local vendors (Copper Kit Co., Uncommon Finch, Kalani Kakes, Ms Betty’s Bows, As If! Vintage Treasures, Symmetry Chaos).
- 11 a.m.: Central Valley resident and drag queen Elayna Roberts hosts Drag Queen Storytime.
- 2 p.m.: Cafecito y Conversación, an informal Spanish-speaking group that meets the second Saturday of every month.
- Sunday, Dec. 11:
- 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Shop local vendors (Green Gifts, Heather Lee’s Chocolates, Lily B Sewing, Made by Bryn).
- 10 a.m.: Music from Scott Semple.
- 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Performance by Newsongs music students.
Correction: This story has been updated to include the correct spelling of Capital Books and Amanda Scott’s last name.
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