Sydni Kreps ’17, Founder + Curator of More Than Words Bookshop
Majors/Minor: Multimedia Journalism, Communication Studies; English Writing

Please tell us about yourself.

I am a lifelong Fargoan. I’m a former English teacher. I hang out with my dog all the time. Obviously, I’m a very avid reader. I always have been. Growing up, I was always reading even when I shouldn’t be. The first time we went to Disney World, I brought a book about Disney World and walked around reading it instead of experiencing it. That’s a taste of who I am.

Why did you choose Concordia and how did that influence you?

At first, I was so sure I was going to leave Fargo-Moorhead because I grew up here. I felt like I knew the campus, so I didn’t need to go on a tour. However, I definitely did not know it. After I ended up going on a tour, I fell in love with campus. I really liked the small campus and the small class sizes. The COBBlog (Concordia’s former student blog) is what ended up pushing me over the edge. I was trying to get an inside scoop on student life, and I started reading one student’s blog posts. I don’t know why I read all his entries, but he would post about books all the time and different things that felt in line with me. His posts are what made me feel like I could see myself at Concordia.

What student activities were you involved in at Concordia?

I was in choir the entire time — I was in Cantabile and then Chapel Choir. I was a writer and the opinion editor for The Concordian. I also edited for AfterWork. I worked at Concordia Language Villages. I also did a May Seminar study abroad program on Santorini in Greece. We worked on creative writing while there. I literally chose it because the trip poster advertised a bookstore called Atlantis Books that we would get to visit.

How did your Cobber experience prepare you for life after college?

Concordia helped me build a community-oriented mindset. I had so many projects or experiences where we were out of the classroom and in the community. That helped me learn about the community I’d grown up in in a different way.

I also think because Concordia is a liberal arts college, you develop a broader skill set than if you’re being pigeonholed straight away. Trying new things in college helped me build confidence with trying new things after graduating too because I knew that I’d at least dabbled in an area.

What motivated you to open your bookstore?

I have always wanted to open a bookstore since I can remember. If somebody asked me, “What would you do if you could do anything? What’s your crazy dream?” It was always open a bookstore or work in a bookstore. I was going through my old stuff and found that a friend had given me a book with a $20 bill in it with a note that said, “Use this to open your future bookstore.”

But what made it happen was when I was teaching English in West Fargo. The week before my first year of teaching, my dad died. Somehow, I went back to school the next week and taught the whole year and halfway into the next. Then the grief caught up with me all at once, and I had to take a leave from teaching. At the time, that felt mortifying. But I was thankful to be in a school that really supported me taking that leave and making it as easy as it could be. I started doing a lot of reflecting. I was going to therapy. I got a tattoo in my dad’s handwriting that said, “more than words,” which was a phrase my dad said all the time. He said things like, “I love you more than words” and “I’m proud of you more than words.” One night during my leave, I looked down at my new tattoo and truly had this epiphany moment. “More than words” was the name of this bookstore I’ve always dreamed of opening. I realized that was the perfect name for so many reasons. Obviously, there’s the connection to my dad, but books are also more than words. What a bookstore does for the community is beyond the words on the pages of a book.

I called my mom right away and told her my epiphany and that I needed to do it. I think she understood that at the time. I needed joy in my life. There was this huge hole in my life left by my dad. Although a bookstore could never fill that, it became something that brought joy. It also gave me an excuse to reconnect with family and friends because they all helped me throughout this whole process. That was a big part of my healing.

What was it about Moorhead that made you want to open your storefront here?

I knew right away that I wanted to open the bookstore in Moorhead. I did not even consider Fargo or West Fargo. They have some great indie bookstores there. Moorhead is home to college campuses and has a thriving arts community. Somehow, it didn’t have a bookstore. Because I went to college in Moorhead and had my first postgrad job in Moorhead, I spent a lot of time in the city and felt the absence of not having a space to meet with people who had similar interests. I went looking for locations and found the spot we’re in on my first scouting drive through the city. I didn’t know this at the time, but it ended up being in a building that my dad’s grandpa built, which was very cool. So that felt right again — it was serendipitous.

You’ve talked a little about the desire to design a space for community. How do you envision that space going forward?

We’re very new, but I think of the bookshop as more of a community space, a gathering space, not just a retail store. I think bookstores are unique in that regard and in what they can offer a community. I hope to continue to see this be a space where book clubs can meet and where students spend some time. As a former teacher, it’s at the top of my priority list to build relationships with all of the local schools and educators. I have a lot of ideas for future workshops and classes and events that we want to host. We hope to always have something going on here. Life is happening here — it’s not just a bunch of cold shelves with books.

What skills have you found necessary for opening your own business?

This is probably not a unique answer, but the biggest one is just being flexible and willing to adapt. Literally nothing went according to plan. That can be frustrating if you get set in those ways and set in your ideas. I’m already a perfectionist, so that was tough for me to learn. For me, this is an entirely new field. I’ve always been very immersed in the book industry in different ways but being a business owner is totally foreign to me. So, I think having that curiosity and that growth mindset and willingness to keep learning and put yourself in uncomfortable, unknown situations is super important.

If I had to think of another skill, it would probably be creative thinking, especially when you’re opening your own business. You don’t have to do anything the way other people do. It’s fun to have this opportunity to think outside the box and think about how we can do something differently. Do it your own way.

What have been some of the learning curves or the biggest hurdles that you’ve had?

Timelines aren’t necessarily going to go as you plan — for example, renovation was a huge thing and there were many unexpected hiccups. Coordinating all those different people, coordinating shipping, all of that. Also, this may sound bad but realizing that nobody else cares as much as you do. So, I needed to be on top of things and an active presence and participant in every step.

Overall, I’m a word person not a numbers person. That has been a big challenge point for me in learning accounting and finances and all of that. I hired an accountant right away because I recognized that as a weakness of mine. I learned as much as I could, but it’s important to realize where your weaknesses are and where other people are better.

What do you wish you knew in college that you know now?

Nothing you decide in college is set in stone. I had this idea that whatever choice I made was the path I would be on for the rest of my life. That felt like a lot of pressure. I think that’s why I changed my major so many times. Even when I graduated, I felt unsure that I had made the right choice. I wish I had realized sooner that what you study in college is just one piece of the puzzle, and that you can and likely will go a different way. It’s like you need the life experience to realize it’s not the end of the world if you get a B or if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Also, I found it’s important to put relationships over perfect grades. When I think about college, I think about not only friends but also relationships with professors and other staff on campus.

How have you stayed connected to Concordia?

I still keep in touch with many of my friends there but also with a lot of professors, which has been cool to maintain those relationships. In particular, I’ve kept up with English professors and Dr. Culloton — I worked with him outside of Concordia, which was fun. I also spoke at the Careers Connecting Cobbers event last year. It was fun to interact with current students. I would love to keep finding ways to do that with the bookstore as well.

Do you have any advice that you would give to a student who is considering Concordia?

I would say to definitely go on a campus tour and, if you can, I would try to talk to a current student who is doing something that you think is interesting. They don’t have to have the same major you want, but if you can somehow talk to a student and have a candid conversation about their time there, those are the things that helped me.

What advice have you received about opening your business?

The best advice I received was from some friends who had started a small business about a year before me. They reminded me that you get to set your own pace, which seems like a simple thing, but I remind myself of that all the time. I get to choose what I say yes to and what I say no to. I don’t need to grow any faster than I am able to, which is unique when you’re getting to set those goals for yourself. That’s helped me when I feel overwhelmed. I get to decide if it’s something I can take on or not, and there’s no wrong answer. I can grow at my own pace.

Do you have any tips for someone who is thinking about launching their own business?

If I were to give some tips, it would be to accept the “good enough” mindset. It doesn’t mean you aren’t giving something your all. It just means you’ve given as much as you can give at that point in time, and you will improve and figure out the rest later.

Also, kind of bookish advice, I would say if you’re looking to start a business or something like that, read about that industry in particular. Look for memoirs of people or something similar to what you’re hoping to do. That’s what I looked for — I read a bunch of memoirs of booksellers, of people in the book industry. I found that more helpful than some sort of guidebook. It was very eye-opening, that lived experience.

Do you have a favorite book of all time?

I read so much, but if I have to answer this question (it probably changes every year), I would probably say “Little Women.” I read that when I was young, and I’ve read it many times since then. I was so inspired by Jo. Other than that, I would say another foundational favorite for me is the Nancy Drew books. From an early age, they hooked me into a good mystery, which is kind of my bread and butter.

Anything else you have to share or would like to say?

Reading is cool, and it’s not going anywhere. Books are not going anywhere — they have persisted and will persist.

Published September 2023