Books & Mortar
955 Cherry Street SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
Independent bookstores will soon be a thing of the past. Do you remember those dire predictions? Amazon and e-books will drive them out of business. That's what we were told. Yeah, right! And by now we were also supposed to be living in a paperless world. How has that worked out? Apparently the readers of the world didn't get the message. The American Booksellers Association has reported growth in their membership for a straight seven years. Rather than dying out, new bookstores are opening, and existing bookstores are thriving. It seems that people still want print books and the personal touch of a brick-and-mortar establishment. In keeping with this trend, Grand Rapids, Michigan, now claims a brand new independent bookstore called, appropriately, Books & Mortar, and I had the pleasure of visiting this shop shortly after its grand opening.
|Store owners, Jonathan and Chris|
There's something very special about a trip to a brand new bookstore, and visiting the store with an old friend made it even more special. It was my friend Paula who had learned about Books & Mortar when the store was nearing its opening date. When Paula passed this news on to me, we immediately made plans to check out the new shop together.
We arrived at the store just as owner, Chris Roe, was opening up, and I observed him performing a curious opening activity—putting out a fresh dish of water for dogs. “We're a dog-friendly store,” he says. Seeing as how many of their customers stop in with dogs in tow, Chris and co-owner, Jonathan Shotwell, aim to accommodate them. Now that's customer service.
Books & Mortar inhabits space in an old building that has spent time as a yoga studio and, for many years, a meat market. Originally, however, it was part of a luxury hotel built in the 1800's. Old wood floors, a tin ceiling, and exposed brick-and-“mortar” walls together with simple, modern furnishings give the shop an eclectic charm.
Live plants and plenty of daylight lend a cheery feel to the children's area, while a comfortable seating area anchors the main part of the store. Stationery, unique book bags, and fun specialty items are sprinkled throughout, and an antique typewriter next to the main desk adds to the charm.
It took two years for Chris and Jonathan to plan Books & Mortar, and the planning continues. Chris says they intend to offer featured books at a discount for book clubs, and they want to host children's story times, a fitting idea since Chris has a background in elementary education. Even more intriguing, though, is their plan to offer adult story time. After all, kids aren't the only ones who enjoy being read to. Count me in. Once the weather is warm, Chris and Jonathan also aim to create an outdoor patio space in a paved area in back of the shop currently being used for parking.
|Future patio space|
I was happy to learn that Books & Mortar's first few weeks of life have been very busy with plenty of customers and activity. They're also getting loads of media attention. It seems I'm not the only one who is excited about a new bookstore. As a matter of fact, shortly before we arrived, a local TV crew had been at the shop to interview Chris and Jonathan.
I found so many current book titles and fun things that I had a bit of trouble limiting my purchases to a reasonable amount, always a risk when I visit a bookstore. But there was one title on my to-read list that was not currently in stock, so Chris was happy to special order it for me.
Books & Mortar has a fun connection to another area store, GR Bagel. At the bottom of my receipt was a coupon for a free bagel with the purchase of a cup of coffee. Local business supporting local business, I can get behind that. And just in case you're wondering, after a nice lunch with Paula, I did indeed make a stop at GR Bagel (grbagel.com) on my way home. I purchased a few bagels (authentic hand-rolled, water bagels—boiled, never steamed) as well as a coffee and a container of their house-made cream cheese. All were delicious.
It was a delicious day all around. I wish Chis and Jonathan well in their new venture and expect to be making periodic return visits to Books & Mortar.