At Delaware's July Fourth fireworks display, Columbus Zoo docent Kay Rietz ran into Tami Furlong, owner of Fundamentals Parent-Teacher Bookstore.

At Delaware's July Fourth fireworks display, Columbus Zoo docent Kay Rietz ran into Tami Furlong, owner of Fundamentals Parent-Teacher Bookstore.

"I know this is no place to do business," Rietz said.

"We can always do business," Furlong assured her.

What Rietz wanted was four more copies of a book Furlong had found for her: "The Heart of the Beast: Eight Great Gorilla Stories," by former zoo docent Nancy Roe Pimm.

"She had them two days later," Rietz said. "I couldn't believe it. But she's just that way."

Furlong, who will celebrate her 20th year in business with a week of special events beginning Aug. 2, said service has been a key to her success. She's supported school programs, donated to the Literacy Coalition, made home deliveries, stayed open for people who couldn't get there before closing time and even arranged to bring orders to customers at Buehler's supermarket.

"Tami's just very attuned to her clientele," Rietz said. That one-on-one approach might not make the difference in a big city, she added, but it works in Delaware.

Furlong opened her store on the north side of West Winter Street on Aug. 2, 1988. (She moved to her present location at 25 W. Winter St. a year later.) Her now-grown daughters were 7 and 4.

"I went into this totally blind," she said.

Well, not quite. Furlong visited stores, studied dealer catalogs, and proceeded with caution.

"I started small," she said. Although she has had several loyal employees, they came later.

"You have to live in your business," she said. "I think I knew that, going in."

Furlong's husband, Fred, has pretty much lived in her business, too. He's built walls, ceilings and shelves, remodeled and repaired and served as her computer help desk.

The store first offered teacher supplies and arts and crafts. Teachers asked for books, and when a Delaware bookstore closed she became a bookseller herself, basing her inventory "on what I personally would put in front of my children."

Fundamentals' second floor became a carefully organized book nook that expands on the books downstairs. The upper room recently was renovated in honor of the anniversary by - who else? - the Furlongs.

Rietz, who keeps her three Delaware grandchildren supplied with Fundamentals gift cards, said Furlong always has excellent suggestions.

"I don't know how she remembers all the books that are coming out," Rietz said.

Keeping up with new material is a challenge, Furlong said.

In the beginning, her own children's opinions helped, and now grandson Luke, 7, is her barometer. She attends book shows and also listens to customers, the tall and the small.

"When they come into the store, the things they're squealing about -- 'Look at this, mom!' -- That helps too," she said. After two decades, "I know what will sell, what might sell and what probably won't sell."

Furlong, winner of Buckeye Valley schools' 2008 "Baron Award of Excellence" for business, stresses that her store is for "anyone who wants to make a difference in a child's life," including, of course, parents.

"After all, parents are the first and most important teachers in their children's lives," Furlong wrote in an e-mail message to ThisWeek.

Although she avoids books and other items linked to television and limits her electronic inventory -- "Kids get enough bells and whistles in their lives" -- she does pay attention to trends.

Such as?

"Pirates," Furlong said. "Anything pink and princessy for girls. ... Fantasy in young adult books is huge, thanks to Harry Potter."

Furlong's midnight release parties for J.K. Rowling's boy wizard books drew throngs. For her 20th anniversary, she's planned another midnight party, this one for "Breaking Dawn," the fourth book in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series.

Also on Aug. 2, Bender and Bender of Waldo, the antic creators of "Ribbit!," will visit. Events through Aug. 9 include programs by Tim George, "Mr. Etch-a-Sketch;" "The Turtle Lady," Nancy Lockard; and, on Aug. 9, author-illustrator Denise Fleming. For a complete schedule of Fundamentals' anniversary celebration, drop by the store or visit

And then Fundamentals will begin its second 20 years.

"The day I wake up and dread going to work is the day I'll think about moving on," Furlong said. "I love what I do. My heart's in it."

As for those customer favors -- the house calls, the grocery store rendezvous -- "That's the beauty of Delaware," she said. "That's what it's all about."