By Norah Machia
When Casey Rose Frank set up a new bookshop in Liverpool, she wanted to make sure readers of all ages and backgrounds would feel welcome. So she filled the shelves with a curated collection of positive books that celebrate both diversity and inclusion.
“Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in books,” especially people who are not typically portrayed in traditional stories, said Frank, owner of the Golden Bee Bookshop, located at 324 1st St., Liverpool. The bookshop offers a wide range of fiction books for children, teenagers and adults, including titles with main characters who represent a variety of ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations. The characters may be dealing with family issues, conflicts with friends, mental health concerns or disabilities. However, some books are just adventure, mystery or romance stories whose main characters happen to be less represented in literature.
For example, the store has romance books whose characters are not in heterosexual relationships, and young adult books featuring characters who are gender neutral. A selection of illustrated children’s books includes stories of children with same-sex parents. The focus is often just the story itself, Frank said. “The main characters are just people who populate the earth” whose experiences and stories aren’t very different from others, she said.
The Golden Bee Bookshop “is a reflection of how it should be” for avid readers who want to see themselves in the pages of books, Frank said. Books that promote diversity and inclusion are also helpful for people of all ages to better understand others who don’t share the same race, body type or gender identity, she said.
“Books have always been a priority for me,” said Frank, who recalled bringing home the Scholastic Books paper flyer and digging into the couch for change to buy books at the school fair. That passion was always in the back of her mind as she navigated her journey through early adulthood.
Frank initially opened her bookshop in a smaller space at a nearby building. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She quickly adapted by offering curbside pick-up and shopping by appointment (some of the most popular appointments included her reading to children as their parents shopped).
In 2021, Frank decided it was time for a larger location that would allow her to expand her collection of books and hire employees to help with the growing business. At the time, Frank was becoming increasingly frustrated at the censorship of books in schools and public libraries taking place nationwide. “I became really concerned about it,” said Frank, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. “You can’t fight every fight, but you can start somewhere.”
Her children’s book collection includes stories such as “Papa, Daddy, and Riley,” by Seamus Kirst, the story of a young girl with two fathers who must navigate questions from curious classmates. The children’s book helps to “normalize same-sex parents,” Frank said. “Call Me Max” by Kyle Lukoff, which has been banned by some school districts, tells the journey of a transgender child as he reveals his feelings about his identity to his parents. Also in the children’s section is “A Beginner’s Guide to Being Human,” by Matt Forrest Esenwine, a book about acceptance written to inspire children to be kind and empathetic towards others.
Frank also carries mainstream book titles as well, including selections from several well-known authors. She has a nonfiction section featuring books on a variety of health topics, along with several cookbooks. But you won’t find any of the typical “diet books” on the shelves. Instead, her collection of books addresses topics such as body acceptance. Next to those books is a sign on the shelf defining “body liberation” as “the freedom from social and political systems of oppression that designate certain bodies as more worthy, healthy and desirable than others.”
Body image is a personal subject for Frank, who served on the board of directors for the nonprofit organization, Ophelia’s Place in Syracuse, for four years (two as vice president and two as president, stepping down in January 2022). The organization offers educational programming and support services for those who have been impacted by eating disorders, diet culture or body oppression.
After graduating from Cicero North Syracuse High School, Frank earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from Niagara University. She moved to Chicago and briefly studied at Second City Improv Training Center before relocating to New York City, where she was successful in landing roles in some Indie films. But the grueling process of auditioning began to wear her down. “I was rejected for parts after being told I was too fat, I was too thin, I was too short, I was too tall,” said Frank. “How could I be all those things at the same time?”
She decided to stop auditioning and found work as a nanny. “I had no interest in having myself constantly be this object for others to judge,” Frank said. “It just didn’t bring me joy anymore.” Frank and her husband, who was working for a tech company, were renting an apartment in Queens. They eventually decided it didn’t make sense to keep paying the high cost of rent and other living expenses in the city and made plans to leave (her husband’s company then offered him a remote work position). The couple returned to Central New York where they would be closer to their families.
But just a month after moving back home, Frank was shocked when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She underwent surgery and radioactive iodine treatment and has since been in complete remission. The experience caused Frank to take time for an inner reflection of her future and start a new journey as she sought to discover her passion in life.
After her recovery, Frank decided to start freelance writing. For several years, she was a contributing writer to the Syracuse Media Group and wrote a weekly local author column on Syracuse.com, published in Sunday’s Empire Magazine. Frank also served as the municipal liaison for the National Novel Writing Month. “But I still felt like I was wearing a sweater that just didn’t fit well,” she said.
She finally turned to her one constant in her life, and that was books. In the fall of 2019, the Golden Bee Bookshop was opened.
Soon after she moved into the new expanded location, Frank started the next chapter of her life – the birth of her daughter, Adaline Rose. Being a business owner and a mother has been “a really big challenge,” Frank said. She has a part-time nanny, and her in-laws also help care for her daughter. “But I still struggle with that mom guilt,” like so many other women balancing careers and parenthood, she said.
Frank found a way to spend more time with her daughter when she started a weekly children’s story time at the bookshop. Adaline is often in the back of her mind when Frank is selecting books for the children’s section. “I don’t want my daughter to ever feel like she can’t express her true self,” she said.
Frank hosts other community events at the store and opens the doors for local authors to speak and sell their books directly to the audience. The Golden Bee Bookshop also carries book-related merchandise, including handmade cards, candles and chocolates, from small businesses throughout Central New York, many of them women-owned.
“Independent bookshops can’t survive without support from the community,” she said. “It’s also important that local business owners support each other as well.”