Main Street Books Offers a Bit of Holland in Pella, Iowa

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Kate Bearce's Main Street Books is in Pella, Iowa, a town one hour from Des Moines, but steeped in the traditions of Holland. Founded by a descendant of an immigrant Dutch family, the store originally bore the name De Boekenader, a Dutch word for bookseller, said Bearce. In the early 1990s, the store was sold to two women who renamed it Main Street Books to reflect its address. At some point during that partnership, Bearce said, the store was moved to its current 780-square-foot location on Franklin Street, but the name remained the same.

In the late '90s, the store changed ownership again and the new owners hired Lisa Baudoin, now of Oskaloosa, Iowa's Book Vault, to manage the store. As Bearce tells the story, Baudoin was instrumental in leading her to her current career as bookstore owner. Very early in 2004, Bearce said, she complained about her job to Baudoin, and Baudoin, knowing the owners were interested in selling, suggested that Bearce purchase Main Street Books.

By April 2004, Bearce had begun working in the store. She attended the Bookseller School sponsored by the American Booksellers Association and facilitated by Paz & Associates at BookExpo America 2004 in Chicago, and she joined the Midwest Booksellers Association (MBA). "I immersed myself in the world of bookselling and purchased the store in August 2004," she explained. "Once I started working in the store, I discovered all of the parts of bookselling that have nothing to do with reading -- interacting with customers, packing and unpacking shipments, dealing with the trash, alphabetizing, washing the windows, and cleaning up spills on the floor."

During "a very successful first year," Bearce held author events and a number of other programs. "Most events, unless they are very small, are held offsite," she said. "Pella is the home to Central College, [and it has an event] space for up to 500 people. We partner with them, or with the community center, or the opera house. The opera house was built in 1850 and restored 15 years ago. That's where we held the Junie B. Jones Stupid, Smelly Bus Tour last year and had 300 kids."

Main Street Books maintains an inventory consisting of one-half adult books and one-half children's titles. About half of the adult books are nonfiction. "We do have a lot of people here interested in Holland," commented Bearce. "Pella has a very large tulip festival in May, and we have the nation's largest working windmill. We stock a number of books on Iowa and the region.

"Pella has three other bookstores -- one on the campus, a Christian bookstore, and a used bookstore." And, she noted, "That's pretty impressive for a town of 10,000 people."

Main Street Books features the work of local artists. "We rotate [the work] about every three months," said Bearce. "It helps keep the interior fresh and different."

For the bookstore, with its very limited space, its six-month-old site has distinct advantages. "We do a lot of special orders," Bearce told BTW. "With the searchable database, it's a seamless process for someone to browse our website. If the book is at Ingram ..., the book is ordered and the customer gets it in the mail. It's amazing. I'm generating business, and I don't have to do a thing."

Bearce is also very pleased with Constant Contact, which she uses to generate an e-mail newsletter. "It's so great, why didn't I do it before?" she commented.

Of Book Sense gift cards, which the store has sold "quite a few," she said, "Most come back to us, and some people with family in other places can send an instant present."

Main Street Books displays the Book Sense Bestseller List in the front window, and, Bearce told BTW, "People stand and read them. I always read the Picks Lists and everything that comes in the White Boxes. When I read what other booksellers say about books, I can speak intelligently when I'm handselling -- I just can't read everything myself.

"I speak before a lot of groups, and I do something I learned from Donna Paz [at Booksellers School]," said Bearce. "She called it the '30 in 30': I have a list of 30 books, and I say something positive about each one in a half-hour. People always want a copy of the list. I try to throw in a YA book, so they have an idea of what their children, or grandchildren, are thinking about. And I try to select a book that is outside of their normal comfort levels. For example, if I speak to a church-related group, I'll include Traveling Mercies by Anne LaMott (Anchor) -- it's perfect. [A book like that] can help people understand another's perspective by dealing with themes that are common to everyone." --Nomi Schwartz