A new independent bookstore is coming to Washington this summer and local readers may not be surprised by who is behind the project.
Dawn Kitchell, educational services director for The Missourian, has made her life’s mission to promote reading. She has been working with newspapers and schools for 30 years — 17 of that in Washington and the surrounding communities with The Missourian.
In addition to encouraging people to read newspapers, Kitchell has promoted books through The Missourian’s Book Buzz youth literacy project that she and colleague Chris Stuckenschneider created at the newspaper in 2003.
Kitchell said she has always felt there was a missed opportunity in the community for a bookstore, and she never believed the prediction that printed books would become obsolete with the evolution of e-books.
Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 80 percent of print sales in the United States, confirms her confidence. Print book sales rose in 2016, making it the third straight year of print growth.
Kitchell began researching small, independent bookstores about a year ago and found encouragement at every turn. She talked with bookstore owners, researched trends, attended conferences and sought input from school librarians.
“In any other community, I might not be as optimistic — it will take a lot to get a bookstore off the ground — but my work with families and educators convinced me our community needs a bookstore,” Kitchell said.
The new bookstore will be called Neighborhood Reads.
“I wanted a name that shared our mission — the goal, as always, is to keep reading a community priority,” Kitchell said.
This week, she and her husband, Eric, finalized the purchase of a historic house at 401 Lafayette St., formerly home to The Body Natural, which closed its doors in December 2015. They will do some renovations on the 118-year-old structure, including adding on about 300 square feet for a meeting space.
Kitchell will continue her work with the newspaper and said the bookstore will only enhance those efforts.
“We recommend a lot of great books in The Missourian,” she said. “Now, we’ll be able to offer readers a place, in addition to the local libraries, to seek out those titles and others like them. It takes a bookstore to attract authors on book tours — now we’ll have that.”
In addition to a curated selection of new books, Kitchell said the bookstore will carry a variety of unique gift items, including cards, journals, tote bags and puzzles and games for children.
Kitchell said she plans to open this summer with about 3,000 books and will build the inventory based on what the neighborhood wants to read.
“We have a group of volunteers helping guide us in getting the doors open,” Kitchell said. “And we’re already interacting with the community on our website, neighborhoodreads.com, and through Facebook and Instagram. We’re trying to build excitement and learn from readers what they hope this bookstore will be.”