Small Business Saturday this weekend is one of the most important bookselling days of the year.
But for Josh Stevens, a St. Louis publisher specializing in local interest books, hopes for strong holiday sales went up in smoke last week after a massive warehouse fire destroyed his inventory of about 200,000 books.
Josh and his wife, Mary Beth, watched the five-alarm fire burn 14 years of work publishing hundreds of titles by local authors that celebrated local history and Missouri interests, including “My Washington, Photographs and Reflections” by Chris Stuckenschneider and Jeanne Miller Wood and Stuckenschneider’s books “Twist of Fate: The Miracle Colt and His Friends” and “Patriotic Pals: Tails of Civil War Dogs.”
“We’re trying to figure out how to put it all back together,” Josh Stevens said. “We were having our best year ever.”
Mary Beth Stevens and two other employees were working at the warehouse Wednesday when smoke started coming through the floor. Stevens grabbed two computers, but forgot her car keys. Her minivan melted in the fire’s heat.
Reedy Press rented about 9,000 square feet in the warehouse just west of Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. The Stevens family, which includes four children, lives in the Lindenwood Park neighborhood.
Stevens had planned for several authors to be at Neighborhood Reads bookstore in Washington on Saturday to help another small business launch its first holiday season. With no books to send, that event seemed futile. But Dawn Kitchell, owner of Neighborhood Reads, had other ideas.
“All of us who have worked with Josh over the years were just heartbroken at the news of the fire and the loss to the Stevens family, their employees and the authors they support,” Kitchell said. “I knew the best way we could help them was to continue to sell their books right now.”
Neighborhood Reads had stocked up on Reedy titles before the fire, so a limited number of printed books will be available at the signing, which will be held this Saturday, Nov. 25, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the bookstore at 401 Lafayette St., in Washington.
When that supply is gone, customers may purchase pre-order gift cards featuring the book cover and information on how the purchase is helping a small business get back on its feet.
“We all knew that Josh would blow the ash off what was left and get to work the next day building back his business,” Kitchell said. “So it was no surprise to hear that many of the books we will feature on Saturday are already headed back to press.”
“Our authors have been awesome,” Stevens said. “Many rely on the books for their income, so we are working to try and get them books to sell for the holidays.”
In fact, Kitchell said some pre-orders may still arrive in time for Christmas. But for those that don’t, she said the cards will be suitable for wrapping and may even be more meaningful to the recipients, who will know that the purchase helped a small Missouri business recover.
The authors who will be at Neighborhood Reads on Saturday with their books include: Cameron Collins, “Lost Treasures of St. Louis,” Amanda Doyle, “Missouri Almanac,” Bill Hart, “Historic Missouri Roadsides,” Brendon Steenbergen, “Mizzou Sports Through the Ages,” and
Jo Ann Kargus, “Route 66 Splendor” and two other coloring titles.
Other Reedy Press titles will be available in the store as well, including “When the Blues Go Marching In,” by former St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports writer Dan O’Neill, and “St. Louis Browns, The Story of a Beloved Team,” by Bill Borst.
For more information on Reedy Press, visit ReedyPress.com. An interview with Josh Stevens about the recent fire can be heard at http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/behind-headlines-owner-reedy-press-discusses-impact-warehouse-fire-his-business.