Neighboring bookstore owners optimistic for future of both businesses
Nearly 10 years ago, during the first full year Lyon Books and Learning Center was open for business at its Fifth Street location, the city was busy renovating the downtown City Plaza.
“It was super disruptive to our business,” said Heather Lyon, the store’s owner, during a recent interview. “Everything was ripped out, it was loud, there was dust everywhere. All of the street lights were taken down, so we were isolated on the other side of this big, messy project.”
As the renovation dragged on for 13 months (it was supposed to take four), business at Lyon Books suffered. Lyon remembers being “terrified” as her store was “on the verge of going out of business.”
But the community rallied in support. Encouraged by a timely email campaign launched by a customer, shoppers flocked to Lyon Books—that April, it sold more books than during the previous holiday season, allowing the store to stay open and become the downtown fixture it is today.
So, when The Bookstore (the long-running used-book store on Main Street) recently faced similar struggles during an ownership change, Lyon actively encouraged her customers to support The Bookstore’s new owners (married couple Josh Mills and Muir Hughes) by attending the host of benefit events held around town.
Aside from promoting a general sense of community, Lyon also had neighborly diplomacy in mind. That’s because on March 1 Lyon Books will open the doors of its new location—the long-vacant storefront next door to Dolce Home and directly across Main Street from The Bookstore.
“I think we’re going to be great neighbors,” Lyon said of Mills. “I met with him before we signed the lease and made sure he’s comfortable. He really has the same philosophy I do—that having bookstores near each other creates gravity for books.”
Lyon said she believes customers of one bookstore will be inclined to shop at the other, adding that some of her customers have jokingly suggested building a pedestrian bridge between the two businesses.
Mills shares her optimism, noting that the two stores operate on “very different business models.”
“Heather is great; I think it will be a good balance,” he said. “I’m excited to see some vacancies filled downtown.”
The move has been several years in the works, Lyon said. She has kept an eye out for a location that would allow for an expanded book selection and a greater audience capacity during the store’s regular books signings, readings and occasional live-music performances. While it has been able to “squash” roughly 75 people into its current store, the new location will allow them to double the size of their potential audiences.
Lyon said she hopes the venue upgrade will attract more nationally renowned authors, increase exposure for local authors, and even allow for full-band musical performances.
And while both Lyon Books and The Bookstore (which announced it was “saved” via Facebook on Feb. 3) appear secure for the short-term future, both Lyon and Mills acknowledge the difficulties of running local independent bookstores. In order to compete with online retail and e-books, Lyon said she has redoubled her efforts to promote local writers and emphasize the value of the printed book.
“I look at screens all day at work with social media, emails, ordering stuff online for the store,” she said. “So, at the end of the work day, I’ve had enough of screens. And also—and this is going to sound really nerdy—I like the way [books] smell.”
Mills, meanwhile, intends to run The Bookstore in a manner more customer-friendly than that of the previous owner.
“It used to be just used books and that was it,” he said. “No chairs, no drinks allowed, a lot of ‘no’s.’ We’re going to put in more seating, have some community-based events. We just want to give back in a big way.”