According to an NPR report, between 2009 and 2015, the number of independent bookstores grew by 35 percent. The growth was a direct contradiction to other consumer trends and will be celebrated this Saturday (April 28) on Independent Bookstore Day.
“Independent bookstores are more than just stores that sell books,” acquisition editor Kim Hogeland explains. “Each plays a significant role in the cultural life of its community. They support local and regional authors and bring in national and even international authors; this is particularly important outside of major cities, where residents may not get the same chance to listen to and talk with major literary and cultural figures. Independent bookstores host events, both individually and in partnership with other community organizations. Here at UPK, we really value our relationships with our regional indies and see them as an important partner in our mission to publish and distribute the high-quality work on Kansas and the Midwest.”
Lawrence has long been a regional center for independent, free-thinking. Before Kansas was a state, Lawrence was ground zero for the abolitionist movement in the territory. After statehood, when a pack of guerilla bandits crossed the border from Missouri and burned most of the town to ashes, Lawrence dusted itself off, and got back to living its independent life.
We are proud to be supported by two outstanding independent bookstores. The Raven Bookstore and the KU Bookstore are vastly different operations, but share a common vision of supporting authors, readers and a fierce passion for getting the job done their way.
The Raven sits on a side street just off Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence. If you close your eyes and picture a quaint bookstore, chances are you’ll imagine The Raven. Old wood floors creak with each step and the store is full, floor-to-ceiling, with books. The shop has a reputation for stocking the best mystery novels available, but also carries a full line of non-fiction, best-seller, children and regional books.
Heidi Raak operated The Raven Bookstore for 9 years (the store has been a staple for Lawrence readers since 1987) before selling the store to Danny Caine last year. An independent store since its inception, Raak weathered (and Caine continues to weather) the changes in the marketplace.
“Obviously our biggest competition wasn’t another store in town, but the internet,” Raak says with a matter-of-fact tone. “We had to overcome the ease of buying a book online with great customer service and knowledge. I think the atmosphere of the store and the experience of shopping for a book is a big draw. There’s something about picking up a book and holding it that is special. You can’t get that online.”
Raak worked hard to create an environment around the store that keeps people interested. The Raven hosts countless book launches, readings and parties with authors. Those events bring people to the store and help establish the staff as go-to resources.
“We understand we’re part of a community,” Raak explains. “We support local artists and well-represented authors. We’re proud to carry books by the (University) Press. We appreciate the support Lawrence gives us, and we work hard to be the best, most-welcoming bookstore in town.”
Up the hill from The Raven, on the north edge of the University of Kansas campus, the KU Bookstore fills most of the 2nd floor of the Kansas Union. The store is one of only a handful of bookstores serving a major university that operate independent of the university.
“We are completely independent of the University of Kansas,” explains Jen O’Connor, store director. “We have no affiliation or obligation to the university. In addition, we are an operating non-profit, which helps us serve the students of KU more effectively.”
The great majority of university bookstores are operated by a larger, national bookstore. When asked to name other independent stores serving universities, O’Connor struggles to name more than two or three.
“I know there are more, but honestly, not many,” she says with a laugh. “We are independent of the University but Student Affairs has oversight of the KU Memorial Union, of which we are a part.”
Much like The Raven, the KU Bookstore puts a lot of effort into bringing students, and the Lawrence community, into the store with events. O’Connor estimates they host one or two unique events a week either at the store or somewhere on campus.
“We have to stay relevant to the students,” she explains. “We know these students have a lot of options and we work hard to be their first choice. Luckily, not a lot of outlets carry every textbook they need.”
Because the store is a non-profit, they can often offer very competitive prices on trade, text and consumer books. In fact, almost half of the store’s sales are books or products not for a class.
“We don’t have to answer to sales numbers or investors,” O’Connor says. “We have to pay the bills and keep the lights on. That gives us a great opportunity to stay competitive on price – which is a big, big help.”
In addition to working with The Raven and KU Bookstore, we’re thrilled to announce a partnership with Watermark Books in Wichita, Kansas to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday, April 28, 2018. The shop will feature four University Press of Kansas authors at an event starting at 4:00 pm.
Sarah Bagby, Watermark owner, will give a short presentation about the philosophy of the press and it’s importance to Kansas. Then, each author will briefly speak about their works before a question and answer session.
For more information, please contact Watermark Books: (316) 682-1181
CJ Janovy, No Place Like Home: Far from the coastal centers of culture and politics, Kansas stands at the very center of American stereotypes about red states. In the American imagination, it is a place LGBT people leave. No Place Like Home is about why they stay. The book tells the epic story of how a few disorganized and politically naïve Kansans, realizing they were unfairly under attack, rolled up their sleeves, went looking for fights, and ended up making friends in one of the country’s most hostile states.
CJ Janovy an editor at KCUR, Kansas City’s NPR affiliate.
Max McCoy, Elevations: The upper Arkansas River courses through the heart of America from its headwaters near the Continental Divide above Leadville, Colorado, to Arkansas City, just above the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Max McCoy embarked on a trip of 742 miles in search of the rivers unique story. Part adventure and part reflection, steeped in the natural and cultural history of the Arkansas Valley, Elevations is McCoy’s account of that journey.
Max McCoy is professor of journalism and director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University.
George Frazier, The Last Wild Places of Kansas: Since the last wild bison found refuge, the public image of natural Kansas has progressed from Great American Desert to dust bowl to flyover country. But look a little harder and you can find the last places where tenacious stretches of prairie, forest, and wetland cheat death. Documenting three years spent roaming the state in search of these hidden treasures, Frazier offers an eye-opening travelogue of nature’s secret holdouts in the Sunflower State.
George Frazier is a software developer and writer.
Mark Eberle, Kansas Baseball, 1858-1941: This history spans the years between the Civil Warera and the start of World War II, encapsulating a time when baseball was adopted by early settlers, then taken up by soldiers sent west, and finally by teams formed to express the identity of growing towns and the diverse communities of African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans. As elsewhere in the country, these teams represented businesses, churches, schools, military units, and prisons.
Eberle teaches in the Department of Biological Sciences at Fort Hays State University.