Downtown Is Best Home for Nebraska Bookstore

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For the owners of the 30-year-old Prairie Books & Gifts in Hastings, Nebraska, one can go home again. In 1983, owners Bernie and Jane Tushaus, moved their then seven-year-old store from downtown Hastings to the local mall. The general bookstore was located at the mall for 16 years until the Tushauses finally decided that enough was enough. For the past seven years, the store has been comfortably ensconced in a 2,800-square-foot space a block away from its original location.

Prairie Books & Gifts is linked by an interior door to the Blue Moon Coffee Company, a popular cafe with multiple locations. In its "Nebraska Room," it features books and gifts of regional interest and much to choose from for Huskers fans in this town of 25,000, a hundred miles west of Lincoln.

Bob Greene autographing Once Upon a Town on The Porch.

The store staff is small: the Tushauses work there daily along with Dickens, a double yellow Amazon parrot they acquired when they returned downtown. Dickens draws customers in, particularly children. However, "once people crowd around his cage, he won't talk," said Jane Tushaus. Children are also attracted by a realistic chicken in the window and a "Kids' Book Barn," which is made from real barn siding. "The Porch" was made to resemble an old farmhouse porch and makes an ideal place to "set a spell" and read.

When authors come to town, as Bob Greene did when his book about Nebraska (Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen, Morrow) was published in 2002, they sign their books on The Porch.

Downtown Hastings is noteworthy for its bronze sculptures on nearly every corner -- appropriately "Boy Reading" is right across from the store.

The Tushauses also eat their lunches on The Porch, but they're happy to be interrupted to make a sale or two. The owners pride themselves on the personal touch they offer to customers whose taste in reading they've come to know. They also refer customers to the Book Sense Picks fliers, which are available in the store.

The move out of the mall and back to downtown has made it possible for the Tushauses to set their own hours, and they told BTW, "We feel like we are our own bosses again, and the rent is half of what we paid over there."

Bernie Tushaus also teaches Speech and Drama part-time at nearby Hastings College, but he is devoted to bookselling. "People come in and plead with us to keep the store going," he explained. "We have never regretted doing this. What other business even compares in terms of the conversations you can have when you're dealing with books?" --Nomi Schwartz