You’ve heard this part of the story before: recent college grad moves to Columbus for a job, falls in love with the city and ends up putting down roots here.
But when Alexia Winfield moved to Columbus in 2010, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
Winfield grew up in Kissimmee, Florida, and studied business finance at Florida A&M University. After graduating, JPMorgan Chase recruited her for a management position at an office in Columbus. She didn’t know anyone here, but she was eager to start her career.
So she moved into a Polaris apartment complex near her office. But trading the Florida tropics for, as she describes it, the “very suburban” Polaris area made for a rough transition.
“I started working at the bank, was getting acclimated to the job and just hated Columbus,” Winfield says. “I’m like, ‘I can’t do this—I can’t acclimate, can’t connect.’ It was super frustrating.”
Columbus would not only ultimately Winfield over, but also turn the transplant into a champion of the city. In fact, you could say she wrote the book on it.
As founder of The Columbus Book Project, Winfield assembled a team of scrappy creatives to produce a set of coffee-table books showcasing the arts, culture and dining scenes of Columbus. The two-book set is expected to be released in November.
From Homesick to Home Sweet Home
After a couple of years in the Polaris area, Winfield decided to give downtown Columbus a shot and moved to East Spring Street.
“I just started meeting curators at galleries, designers, street photographers, going to local boutiques,” Winfield says of Downtown living. “I was like, ‘Wow, this city is actually pretty cool,’ and organically just fell in love with the city.”
Though her background is in business, Winfield has always had a creative streak.
“I used to blog,” Winfield says. “Fashion, style—that was what the blog was about. I just love and enjoy creativity and being artistic and the arts, so it was always a part of me.”
Then in 2013, a metaphorical lightbulb turned on for Winfield.
“I’m at a friend’s art studio,” Winfield says, “just casually looking through her coffee-table books, and I said, ‘Wait a minute. Why don’t we do a coffee-table book about Columbus fashion, art, culture?’ ”
Self-Publishing As a Startup
Why make a print product in the digital age? After all, it would’ve been easy enough (and much cheaper) to make an e-book or webzine.
“I love coffee-table books,” Winfield says, adding that she has books about Banksy, Pharrell Williams and M.I.A. on her coffee table at home. “I think there’s something to flipping a page and touching something and seeing it. One thing I love about a coffee-table book is it’s a décor piece as well for you home. And it’s just a nice way to spark conversation without having technology.”
Winfield was ready to take her idea and run with it. But without any publishing experience, she wasn’t sure how to get started.
“I remember I was looking up people on LinkedIn,” Winfield says. “I just looked to see who could help me navigate what this would look like.”
Those virtual connections and her contacts in the local arts community led to meetings with the Greater Columbus Arts Council, then-mayor Michael Coleman, an editor from (614) Magazine and other Columbus influencers. And from there, Winfield’s DIY team and support for the project kept growing.
Then came the really fun part.
“I just started curating, mood-boarding—just putting things together, things that I wanted to see,” Winfield says of planning the book. “Everything from the writers, the layout of the design, the clothing that they wear, their hair, their makeup—everything’s local. And it’s all about local artists, local creativity, local neighborhoods.”
Complete with details down to local makeup artists, her comprehensive mood boards became photoshoot schematics, and Winfield and friends got to work. In summer 2014, they completed about 40 photoshoots at different spots around the city, from Columbus staples like the Southern Theatre and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams to lesser-known local gems like the South Drive-In Theatre.
While local businesses and organizations helped sponsor the project, providing some resources and equipment, Winfield knew her vision was going to have a hefty price tag. In addition to the 25 or so members on her team, she also needed to pay for costs associated with the photoshoots and printing.
An angel investor contributed to some of the costs, and a Kickstarter campaign last fall raised over $12,000, which they set aside for printing the first run of copies. Most of the rest of the money for the project came out of Winfield’s pocket.
“I had to take out money from my 401(k),” Winfield says. “I think I spent easily $35,000, just putting everything together, paying people.”
Creating Compelling Content
The Columbus Book Project team is made up of mostly creatives from the Columbus area, with some transplants and students sprinkled in. Josh Bodman, who teaches advertising and graphic design at the Columbus College of Art & Design, and three of his CCAD students (who are now alumni) designed the page layouts.
Rosemary Marston had just moved back to Columbus, where she was born, from Los Angeles in summer 2016 when she learned about the project through a call for writers online. She reached out to Winfield and began writing for the book, starting with a piece about ComFest.
Winfield aimed for the writing to be casual, conversational and a call to action, giving readers plenty of reasons to get out and explore the city.
She also planned to weave in some history and interviews, but what she didn’t want was straightforward bios of businesses.
“I wanted the copy to be like, if a friend was like, ‘Hey, check this place out,’ ” she says. “And you would say, ‘Why?’ and they would say, ‘Well when you go there …,’ you know what I mean? They’re describing it to you. It’s not like, ‘Oh, in 1995, this place opened up.’ ”
Specializing in this sort of experiential writing, Marston quickly became lead writer for the project, allowing her to reacquaint herself with her hometown.
“I’ve been able to explore the city through the books that I’m working on,” Marston says.
After countless late-night living-room meetings and cups of coffee, the book was really coming together. The problem now was that they had too much content for one book—over 500 pages’ worth.
“That’s why we did two books,” Winfield says. “And I’m like, ‘I’m not cutting half the book! Are you insane?’ I worked tirelessly to get the content, and it was good content. I know I’m biased, but the team agreed.
“So we did two books,” she continues. “One’s black (“Explore”); one’s white (“Reveal”). And then if you put it together, on the spine it spells, ‘Columbus.’ We wanted to entice people to buy them together because they are together. They are super comprehensive.”
Topics covered in the books run the gamut: food, breweries, neighborhoods, architecture, art, bloggers, start-ups, the LGBTQ scene, the Somali community and more. Each book is divided up into sections, but they’re not chronological.
“I love the fact that you can open it anywhere,” Winfield says. “You don’t have to start from the beginning—you can just open it up wherever and explore.”
The books are now available for preorder, as a set or individually, on The Columbus Book Project website. Winfield and her team are working with the Columbus Museum of Art to plan a launch party, which will be held at the museum when the books are released in November. The books will then be available for purchase at The Book Loft, Gramercy Books, North Market, Stump, Sweet Carrot and other retailers.
Meanwhile, Winfield’s already thinking about what’s next.
“I would love to, maybe, do a book every three to four years, depending on how the city’s changed,” she says. “But I think this is a good benchmark, a good place to even just start. Because we don’t have anything that really celebrates our city like this.”
And Winfield plans to see firsthand how Columbus changes in the coming years.
“I see myself really putting some roots here in Columbus,” she says. “I love the city. It’s really grown on me. And it’s still growing like crazy. What that tells me is, there is still so much growth coming. And I want to be here for that.”
Broad & High and Columbus Neighborhoods Fall 2017 Preview
Thursdays this fall, tune in to WOSU TV at 8 p.m. for stories that make Columbus an extraordinary place to live. Explore the robust local arts scene with Broad & High at 8 p.m. Then discover the people, landmarks and history that have shaped our city with Columbus Neighborhoods at 8:30 p.m. New seasons begin Thursday, Oct. 5 on WOSU TV!