BLYTHEVILLE, Ark. — That Bookstore In Blytheville is now under new ownership, and that owner is looking to put his passion for the book world to work in making the shop a “destination” spot in the community.
Grant Hill, who is originally from Mountain Home, moved from Little Rock to take over the store. He said he’s always been aware of the shop, and when he read in February that it was being sold he said it was sad that the city might be losing such an iconic place but didn’t put much thought into it beyond that.
“I thought it was a shame that we were losing this oasis in the creative economy desert,” Hill said. “But I kind of just tucked it away in the back of my mind after that.”
After talking with family and friends in early September, Hill, who had been looking to leave his dad’s software company and buy a bookstore, decided to contact then-owner Mary Gay Shipley about the status of TBIB.
“After talking it over, I immediately messaged Mary Gay on Facebook to ask if the store had sold,” he said.
Things moved fairly quickly after that according to Hill, who said everything along the way seemed to “fall into place,” solidifying TBIB as the right choice for him.
“I’m really lucky to step into a store in this position,” Hill said. “It may not be in its golden era, but it’s certainly not crashing to the ground. It’s a nationally known store – and Mary Gay was willing to stay on and help me out.”
Hill may seem young – just 22 years old – but he brings with him a lifelong passion for books and a vision for TBIB, qualities Shipley said would be vital for whomever the new owner was. Hill started working with Shipley in mid-November before taking over as owner on Jan. 1, and brought with him a number of ideas for the store.
“I’ve got a moleskin [notebook] full of ideas, but one of my first goals was I wanted the store to be that ‘third’ place that you can just go that’s not home or the office, and be around friends or co-workers,” Hill said. “Already I have KIPP teachers that will come in here and get together and work on their lesson plans because they don’t want to sit in their office and do it. That’s what I want to see. So I’ve put out these tables and have taken the password off of the Wi-Fi so customers can access it, and I’m looking at bringing in coffee sometime in the near future. I want this to be a destination place for people.”
Some of Hill’s ideas for change do present certain challenges, such as broadening the store’s customer base. Hill said he’s still trying to find ways to make the store more inviting to new groups of people, particularly the young adult crowd. But finding that perfect balance between new and familiar customers hasn’t been easy.
“One of the biggest challenges I’m grappling with is how to keep from alienating people from either side – you know, how to keep from making it so much of a college-age place that the older demographic doesn’t want to come here anymore, but also make sure it’s not so stuffy it’s not intriguing to a younger crowd,” he said. “I’d like to see a new crowd of people start coming in, but I definitely don’t want to run off any of our familiar faces.”
Hill said he welcomes the challenges, though, and is excited about what’s is happening with the store overall.
“There’s definitely a lot of room for me to do what I want to do here, which is fantastic, and so far the community has been really receptive,” he said.
While there are a host of other things he hopes to eventually accomplish, both short-term and long-term, Hill said for now just being surrounded by books is like living a dream-come-true.
“Being surrounded by books all day is ideal for me. Even when I wasn’t working in a bookstore I spent all of my free time surrounded by books,” Hill said. “I was always the kid in my group of friends that reads a lot, so yeah – I’m loving it.”
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