While we’ve seen the decline and in some cases (a la Borders Books) the demise of the big chain bookstore, there has been something of a revival of smaller neighborhood bookshops. That’s true in the Jackson area, as in many other places.
A good example is the Book Rack, located in the Canton Mart Square shopping center in north Jackson.
I met recently with owner Chris McCoy to find out how the ink and paper business is going.
“The business has been here for 46 years now,” he said. “But I just bought it less than a year ago, and things are going well. We have lots of loyal customers who shop with us every week, and we’ve added many new customers as well.”
No stranger to the world of the printed word, Chris has owned a successful printing company (BCT), which does only wholesale work for other printers. After relocating to Mississippi from West Virginia in 1993, Chris started his printing company in 1998, and hasn’t looked back.
“I suppose you’d say there is a connection between the two businesses,” he said with a smile. “I was a long-time customer of this store and loved it, and when the opportunity came to buy it, I didn’t hesitate.”
After purchasing the business from the original owners, Chris says that one of his best moves was to hire Cheryl Blacklidge to be his store manager.
“She just jumped right in and has done a fantastic job, with support from her husband Bob,” Chris said.
He credits Cheryl and Bob for reorganizing the store, making it more visually appealing and efficient for customers. Cheryl was an English teacher in her educational career, and Chris points to her passion for books and the written word as a reason why there is such a good “fit”.
“I really enjoy working here,” Cheryl said. “I love the customers. I’m a frustrated librarian, so I’m getting to do things I always wanted to do. And Chris is a great boss,” she added.
Chris is committed to Jackson and its future. He said there has been a positive impact to the location of the new Whole Foods store in his immediate area.
“I think that was a great thing for the community,” he suggested. “Jackson really does have some great things going for it, and the more we can promote the good, the more unity we can foster, the better we’ll be.”
Asked what his plans are for the future, he indicated that they would at some point like to expand, perhaps to a combination book and coffee shop.
“Unlike the big box stores, our goal here is to be a great neighborhood shop and deliver service our customers will never get at those stores,” he said. “When you come right down to it, bigger is not always better.”
“It’s nice to get to know our customers,” Cheryl agreed. “When you see the same folks coming in week after week, they become friends.”
While acknowledging that Jackson, and Mississippi, have issues that need to be addressed, he nevertheless feels that the state has a bright future.
“I fell in love with the people, the weather, and the great hospitality here, and now I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” he said.
It’s certainly encouraging to see a small neighborhood business thriving, and as we know, it’s the small businesses such as the Book Rack that are the most effective job creators in our nation.
Of course, as a newspaper publisher, I’m delighted to see that despite the digital world we all live in, paper and ink are still alive and well.