The pandemic’s effect on small Texas businesses has been nothing if not mercurial. From closures of beloved music venues to expansions of beloved bike shops, it’s hard to predict which small businesses will find a way to survive, much less thrive.
Across the country, independent bookstores have fared pretty well and, as recently as May, the American Booksellers Association noted just 14 member bookstores had closed in 2021, in addition to more than 70 in 2020. Here in Texas, a surprising number of independent booksellers are braving the pandemic waters with the aim of bringing good vibes and good reads to their communities.
“People are hungering for the sort of connection and engagement we’ve lost over the past few years, and independent bookstores can provide that,” says Teresa Kenney, who plans to open her shop, VillageBooks, in The Woodlands on Sept. 10.
Though Kenney was ready to launch almost two years ago after lining up a Small Business Association loan, the pandemic put the brick and mortar opening on hold. She took the downtime to set up a website and introduce her store selling new books (as opposed to used books) through farmers markets, social media, and other avenues. While she says ongoing COVID issues will cause her grand opening to be more muted than planned, she remains optimistic about seeing her long-time dream coming to fruition.
“You don’t open an independent bookstore to become a mogul or amass wealth,” she says. “You do it because you love books, writing, art, and ideas, and want to add something to the community.”
Joe and Diane Mayes are similarly idealistic about their Denton shop, Patchouli Joe’s Books and Indulgences, which opened in May. “I’m a big believer in having places within the community where people feel loved and affirmed and embraced when they come in,” Joe says. “We want to create a space where people can come together and express themselves freely.”
The Mayes’ shop opened almost concurrently with the shuttering of the original Patchouli Joe’s in Leander, which the couple launched in the fall of 2019 and closed in the midst of COVID quarantine despite efforts to ramp up online sales. The silver lining of the Leander experience was that it prepared them for opening up in Denton, where Diane lived for many years, and the shop offers new books and quirky gifts in store as well as online.
“While we work to engage all the senses in store like smells of soap and the sound of music, we also use a lot of digital tools that grew from necessity back in 2020,” she says.
Whether it’s necessity, passion for books, good timing, or a combination of all three, entrepreneurs across the state are bringing independent bookstores to their communities, even in the midst of a pandemic.
Add these bookshops to your must-visit list
Lisa O’Brien opened O’Brien’s Bookshop in Waxahachie following a job loss. While the shop caters to tourists visiting the town’s historic square looking for Texas-centric books and gifts, she also carries a wide variety of new books and is hoping to move into a larger space in the near future.
Teresa Kenney’s VillageBooks, opening Sept. 10 in The Woodlands, plans to host events that include readings and signings with authors, multilingual children’s story hours, and workshops.
Author Ryan Holiday carries a super-curated collection of new books in-store at The Painted Porch in Bastrop as well as online.
The story of Patchouli Joe’s Books and Indulgences in Denton begins 40 years ago, when Joe Mayes and Diane Boeglinfirst met at an Air Force base in Germany. They reconnected through social media in 2016, got married, and opened their bookstore about two years later.
Kelsey Black’s online shop, The Book Burrow, sells both “pre-loved” and new books, and she’s hopeful to have a Pflugerville- or Austin-based brick-and-mortar shop by the end of 2021.