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New independent bookstore opens in Diamondhead

Diamondhead — It was always Lynn Roberts’ dream to open an independent bookstore, and now she’s done just that in the receptive town of Diamondhead in Hancock County. Calico’s House of Books opened last month in a small gray house with a welcoming red door.

The University of Southern Mississippi accounting graduate retired as the chief financial officer with the American Red Cross in New Orleans after 24 years with that organization. For 18 years, she and husband, Craig, had a home in Diamondhead before they moved there full time in 2000. The unincorporated community has a 30% growth rate with a population approaching 9,000, which made her think a bookstore might be in order.

“I did an informal survey, and eight out of 10 residents thought it was a good idea to have a bookstore here,” Roberts said. “There were already four reading groups here and no library. Residents have been very pleased and supportive. Some say they come in and buy something just to keep the shop open.”

She invested some retirement funds in the bookstore and is optimistic the business will grow. “The shelves will fill up as it grows. That’s how bookstores grow,” she said. “People are glad to get a bookstore locally, and I don’t feel I’m competing with other bookstores on the Coast. The stores complement each other.”

Roberts has a consignment system that no other area store is using. Customers can bring in used books for the back room shelves. When the books sell, they receive 85% and the store gets 15% of the sale price. Customers’ portion of the sale is applied to in-store purchases for used or new merchandise.

“The customers are very happy with this arrangement,” she said. “The first weekend I was open a lady who had just moved from Las Vegas came in with five boxes of books. That was the beginning of the used book section.”

With muted shades of red, plum and eggplant and lots of white shelves, the shop has a homey atmosphere that is just what Roberts wants. There’s an inviting cinnamon and apple scent, classical music and complementary coffee.

“I want customers to feel comfortable and at ease here,” she said. “I used to hang out in bookstores, and I want people to relax here. I can’t give them the same thing large stores give, but I can give customer service.”

Calico’s House of Books carries featured best-seller-list books, regional titles, popular fiction, reference, cookbooks and other nonfiction that includes gardening, yoga, exercise, spiritual and other interests.

“And this is Diamondhead so I have to have some golf books,” she adds in reference to the town’s predominant golf course.

Saying she’s not a purist, Roberts also has audio books, greeting cards and some gift items. She feels the few gift items don’t take away from the books, but add an extra touch and interest.

“I recognize the value of audio books because my father was a stroke patient and lost his eyesight. Listening to books was very important to him,” she said. “Audio books are also enjoyed by commuters.”

Roberts also handles requests for special orders and books for the reading groups. “I will hunt down that hard-to-find book. It may be something out of print and may not necessarily be an old book,” she said. “It’s sometimes an author’s first book that had a limited printing or the work of an author who doesn’t sign books anymore. There’s great value to book collecting.”

This bookseller wants children to come to her shop and is thinking of starting a story time this summer. She hopes to have volunteers come in and read to the youngsters. Although she has some pottery in the store, she was careful not to have many breakable items around because she wants young readers to be at ease in Calico’s.

Roberts chose the name of her bookstore from the painting, The Calico Cat, by folk artist Susan Powers. She’d heard that tricolor cats are a sign of good luck and remembered a rhyme from school days that went, “You’ll be my bashful, barefoot Joe and I’ll be your queen in calico.”

“I e-mailed Susan Powers in New York and asked permission to use a copy of her painting for the store’s sign,” she said. “I thought I would never hear from her, but she wrote back and gave me permission to use it.”

She plans to bring in authors for book signings and add to the shop’s selection of books. A grand opening is in the works, too.

“Little by little people are finding their way in, and I’m growing,” she said. “Independent bookstore owners will never get rich, but I love to get up and go to work. The biggest thing is that I’m happy with it and hope the people who come in are happy with it, too.”

The retired accountant grew up in Picayune; the daughter of Louise Carlisle Furr and the late Hollis Furr. Her mother taught her to read to herself at age three and Roberts has been reading ever since.

“Reading opens your mind to possibilities, and my reading tastes are all over the place,” she says. “I will never censor anyone’s reading. Adults have the right to read what they want.”

Calico’s House of Books is located on Leisure Time Drive and is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. six days a week.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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