Empty-nesters Laura and Troy Weeks wanted a lifestyle change and Vicksburg wanted an independent bookstore. The former residents of Norfolk, Va., and the historic Mississippi River city came together with Lorelei Books opening on Washington Street in the revitalized downtown shortly before Christmas last year.
Laura, a registered nurse, made a career change while her husband, who worked for an engineering facilities management firm, went into business for himself as a consultant. She says there’s no story behind the shop’s unusual name. It’s just a name she liked that wasn’t already trademarked. There is also a no-nonsense reason for this former healthcare professional’s decision to open a bookstore and for moving to Vicksburg.
“We visited downtown Vicksburg eight to 10 years ago and it had not begun its revitalization,” she said. “Then five years ago, we came back and a number of businesses were involved in the revitalization, but there was no independent bookstore.”
She noticed there were plenty of antique shops and she wanted to open something the community needed and wanted. “I enjoy reading, but that was not the primary reason I opened a bookstore,” she said. “I recognized a need for this business, and it was another element for revitalization and growth.”
The Weekses wanted to fill that niche but didn’t proceed on instinct alone. “People approached us and we asked about it, so the word got out,” Laura Weeks said. “We surveyed the local community and visitors as part of the market research for our business plan.”
The couple has family in Florida and Texas, so they felt Vicksburg would be a good central location. Plus they like the people and the weather.
“We always planned to retire in the South, and we were ready for a complete change. That’s a good thing for people in our generation,” she said. “I now have a 22-step commute to work instead of the eight-mile commute that took 40 minutes to drive.”
Although Troy travels as a consultant, both Weekses welcome the lack of traffic and crowds around their Vicksburg home, which is the floor above the bookstore. In 2005, they purchased the building that was constructed in the late 1800s. The ground floor had been renovated and only required modification to house Lorelei Books.
“Nothing had been done to the upstairs in over 60 years,” she said. “We renovated it as a loft apartment such as you would see in Manhattan. Living in a loft was part of our real clear lifestyle goals.”
She is surprised at sometimes being asked why she and Troy moved to Vicksburg or Mississippi. “It’s said in a disparaging tone, but we like the town,” she said. “The community here is different from the Norfolk area. People here are proud of local businesses. They know and support them.”
The building has large windows on the street and a vestibule with Victorian doors. Inside, there are high ceilings and maple shelving for books. Laura was concerned that the building’s downstairs space of 1,600 square feet would not be enough for Lorelei Books, but she is managing quite well and even squeezed in a small children’s section.
The shop is a general bookstore with a diverse collection that includes a strong regional flavor and interesting works about river life. Laura can also special order books and get them in quickly, providing free handling and shipping for customers.
‘A synergistic thing’
The bookstore’s neighbors are Attic Gallery and Highway 61 Coffee House where there’s live entertainment on Thursdays.
“The three businesses have a synergistic thing, and I coordinate my book signings with them,” Laura said. “The gallery has been in business 35 years, and the coffee house is an old-style, hip coffee house.”
She has two or three signings each month, noting it’s always a challenge because no bookseller can know who’ll show up.
Because she was coming from a different field of work, Laura did her homework before opening Lorelei Books, and that included traveling to other bookstores in the area. She credits other booksellers and the Small Business Development Center at Hinds Community College for being instrumental in helping with her business plan. She also joined several booksellers’ organizations for support.
Even before the shop opened, she networked with local schools and started selling books on their required reading lists out of her car.
As for future plans, this bookseller doesn’t want to become a huge business, but she would like to increase the staff and expand the hours of operation.
“The hours are long for me, but I stay open ‘til six and until eight on some nights,” she said. “I am in business to serve customers’ needs, and I can’t do that if I close at five. I’m coming from a different perspective where business hours were longer. That’s a business practice that needs to take hold here.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.