A year and a half ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and befriending Jennifer Pettit at a local bookstore we both worked at. Under her badass punk exterior is a heart of gold and a radiating friendliness no one can match. Recently, Jen and her longtime friend, Andrea Montepagano, opened Enchanted Chapters, a bookstore of their own that caters to families and children in the Phoenix community. In this interview, we’ll take a closer look at their unique store and the inspiring women behind it.
Hello and thank you for taking the time for this interview! Can you tell the Digital Future readers a little bit about yourself?
Hi! Well, my name is Jennifer and as a lover of art and human expression in general, I’ve ended up working in bookstores for over 14 years now. I’ve always felt a strong desire to absorb as much information about the world as possible before I die. Being born into a military family that ended up traveling while at new bases might have had something to do with it.
I was born in the US, but lived in a small village in Germany, named Krottelbach, for a couple of years in the 90s, which was pretty magical to me as a wide-eyed kid. There’s nothing like gardens, stream, fountains, cobblestone sidewalks, and hillsides to spark the imagination. Perfectly juxtaposed to that however, were the modern cities full of techno and great subculture at the time. I saw my very first punk rocker with a bright green mohawk in a metro station. I didn’t know it then, but the punk genre would be become one of the most cherished aspects of my life in only a matter of years.
I’ve always admired your impeccable style & music taste. How were you first introduced to the punk scene?
When I got back to the States, I remember hearing Green Day’s “When I Come Around” on the radio and jumping on my bed to it because I hadn’t heard anything like it before. Although I didn’t end up getting into their music, they did open the door to a mix of punk sounds like The Clash, MXPX, and AFI, which were just incredibly relatable. Life got less lonely when I finally found punk and I even met a friend at school who was one of the only people I knew who listened to non-pop music, so I learned even more. Her name was Suzy and she introduced me to some of the early UK ’82 bands like The Varukers and Vice Squad. From there, the hunger grew until I found some of my favorites like Newtown Neurotics and The Adverts, which are both early British punk bands with an incredible amount of heart expressed through their energy and lyrics about life, society, and politics.
What impact has punk music had on your life?
I will always be thankful I found punk music because I think it’s actually really fortifying for young girls. You learn not to take the crap the world throws at you and that perfection is not the end-goal. As someone who grew severely disfigured during adolescence from acute scoliosis that surgery couldn’t correct, my torso is quite contorted and on top of that, I don’t exactly have the bountiful bosom girls are expected to have. However, the punk culture, both male and females, kept me shielded from feeling like the outcast I easily could have been. You experience real love for one another in this scene, where it’s okay if you don’t look like a magazine cover. This sense of community is really something I miss, as the scene I grew up in has gone through a somewhat dormant phase, as many genres experience over different times. However, it still lives in my heart and in others’ out there who I know are still keeping the spirit.
How did you meet Andrea?
I’ve met a lot of good people by going to punk shows and that’s actually how I met my long-time friend, Andrea, when we were teenagers.
What inspired you and Andrea to start Enchanted Chapters?
Later on, when she had kids, she discovered that both were showing signs that they might be on the autism spectrum and after visiting many specialists, it was determined that both indeed, were autistic. It drove her to become a stronger mother not only for her kids, but for other children as well. So when she asked if I’d be interested in helping her open a bookstore with a special focus on not only autism, but other matters of development, I felt like we had to try. Within a couple of months, she had opened Enchanted Chapters and I now manage it.
Enchanted Chapter is one of the few retail establishments I’ve seen in Phoenix that is a safe space for families with children on the autism spectrum. What kind of amenities and activities can these families expect when they come into your store?
Although it is a classic bookstore, we really want families that struggle with things like childhood behavior or development to feel like they have a sanctuary.
In an effort to encourage this love for books early on, all of our story times are considered adaptive, meaning parents can let us know ahead of time if their child, for example, has sensory issues and needs to hold a stress-relieving toy or have the lights turned down for them. We want to be flexible for those who find it difficult to fit into one-size-fits-all molds.
Andrea designed the store to be especially sensory friendly, in fact. She had the walls painted a calm green and white, with matching paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, along with live plants all over the walls. We even have a green bird named Potter and hairless cat named Bella, which the kids find especially fun.
How has COVID-19 affected your store and the surrounding community?
We are incredibly grateful that this current pandemic occurred at a time when we could begin uploading our inventory online while we had to close the doors to the public after only being open six months. I can’t even imagine going through something like this without the internet as a way to stay connected. As a result, we’re going to continue to grow our website as way of staying available in our customers’ lives because even without a pandemic, sometimes you just can’t fit an extra trip out into a busy schedule.
What are your plans for the store moving forward?
We’ll see how far we can go, especially after COVID. Although we’re back open to the public now, we’ve had to stop all events and even keep our kitten a little more low profile, like a celebrity, until the virus starts to recede. We’re just taking everything one day at a time and trying to adapt where we can.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Digital Future readers?
It’s been great watching the Valley grow and become host to all sorts of venues, lifestyles, new faces, different art forms, etc. When I was younger, I always thought I’d move away the second I became an adult, but it’s grown on me and I’ve discovered that there’s all sorts of hidden gems to make bearing the heat worth it. Most of all, it’s the people that have kept me here over 20 years. To quote Joe Strummer, “Without people, you’re nothing.” When I saw that painted on a wall while walking to a record store in England, it stayed in my brain all the way back home. I hope that the bulk of my life can somehow be dedicated to improving the short lives we have here on earth so it doesn’t have to be such a dog-eat-dog existence. That’s something that all my music, books and life experiences have taught me; value the people around you.
Enchanted Chapters is located at 10880 N 32nd St UNIT 11, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook. I urge everyone to reach out or stop in to say hello to Jen and browse their phenomenal store, you won’t regret it!