Cathie Anderson

Fair Oaks store aids parents who home-school their kids

Diana Hilton would occasionally boil over with frustration after she began home-schooling her teen daughter and kindergarten-age son, telling her husband that someone should open a Sacramento-area store offering a range of books and teaching aids for parents like her.

Then one day, Mark Hilton began asking, “Why don’t you?”

The Hiltons opened their bookstore, A Brighter Child, in a 2,000-square-foot space nearly 15 years ago, but just this last November, they moved into a location that is triple the size of that original shop. The new store, at 8125 Greenback Lane in Fair Oaks, has grown far beyond being only a bookstore. It is also a gift shop, a consulting company and an alternative classroom for kids.

Many parents come to the store because they want the opportunity to bond with their children through home schooling, Hilton said, but others come because their children are failing in public school and they desperately want help.

Before A Brighter Child, Hilton said, she ordered many of her textbooks, supplies and books from online sources, but the materials often didn’t measure up to the product descriptions and would end up being very difficult to return. After opening her store, Hilton realized that other home-schoolers were having the same experience.

“Everybody wanted the same things I wanted, which was to come in and touch it and read it in advance,” she said. “We really were received well in the first few years. Then more online sites started catering to home-schoolers. That took the novelty off what we were doing. We had to start competing with them a little bit, and that made it tougher.”

The store isn’t going to make Hilton rich, she said, but fortunately, her husband has a successful construction business, Sacramento Stair Co.

A Brighter Child has maintained a fierce loyalty from a group of home-schoolers who spread the word about her business, she said. Hilton has always made a point of listening to what customers want, finding those products and ordering them. She also has been consulting with parents from the day she started her business.

“When I opened the store, I was amazed at how many people walked through the door saying, ‘I need a phonics program for a second-grader’ or who wanted some other resource,” Hilton said. “I honestly thought I was going to hire employees (who) just needed the skill set of running a cash register or a computer and people skills to wait on others, but I learned early on ... to have people who can speak to the curriculums we carry.”

Hilton worked alone her first year in business, she said. She had a back room where her children studied and hung out. As she hired employees, they also brought their children to work. She recalls times in the early days when she and employees would be talking with a customer, and a child would walk up, tug on their clothes and ask about taking a spelling test.

These days, her six part-time employees still can bring their kids, she said, and there’s a break room in back where children can do homework. Ten teachers also offer lessons in history, art, music, biology, anatomy and chemistry, subjects that some parents might not feel comfortable teaching. Roughly 300 students took classes at the store last semester.

Some employees, like mother of seven Carol Langill, now have an empty nest. She said she finds the job fulfilling because it allows her to share her years of expertise with store customers.

Plus, “the employees help each other,” Langill said. “Often, when we’re conferring with a customer, another mom who is shopping in the store at the same time will say, ‘I had the same situation. I used this curriculum.’”

The modest Langill doesn’t mention that her home-schooled charges wound up at such prestigious colleges as UC Berkeley, and Cambridge University in England, but her boss does.

All told, Hilton said, she and her staff have 111 years of experience with home schooling. They offer workshops once a month on how to home school, but they also consult one on one with any parent who is just getting started or who wants to supplement the curriculum their children get at school.

They can spend two or three hours with a customer and not sell one item, Hilton said, but that’s not what is most important. Every parent should walk out of the store with tools they need to help their child, she said, noting that today there are far more books, games and other resources available to parents.

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.