This House of Books signs lease on Broadway building

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Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

This House of Books has signed a lease on a storefront at Third Avenue North and North Broadway.

This House of Books isn’t even open yet and it already has a new home.

The independent cooperative bookstore had been talking for almost four months about moving into the old Wendy’s restaurant at 2906 Second Ave. N.

After some delays and difficulties, the bookstore’s board of directors began looking at other locations in downtown Billings. This week, bookstore general manager and CEO Gary Robson announced that the board has signed a lease on a 2,800-square-foot space across Third Avenue North from the Alberta Bair Theater.

“I’m thrilled with this space,” Robson said Tuesday. “It’s a beautiful building and a beautiful location.”

The shop will be on the ground floor of the old Masonic Building at 224 N. Broadway. There is considerably less space than there was at the Wendy’s location, Robson said, but much of the Wendy’s square footage was on a mezzanine with no access for people with disabilities and in other unusable areas.

In terms of actual selling space, he said, the Masonic Building location will offer a bit more than was available at Wendy’s. The large, rectangular room in the Masonic Building most recently housed Kismet Fine Rugs, which moved a block and a half south on Broadway.

If all goes well, Robson said, This House of Books will open sometime in mid-September. Given the historic nature of the building, he said, the general plan is to give the bookstore a look appropriate for “Prohibition-era Billings.” For starters, he plans to rip out the carpet and replace it with hardwood floors.

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To do something creative about two pillars in the middle of the space, Robson said plans are to build an oval counter encompassing both pillars. On one end, teas will be displayed and served; on the other will be the cash register and checkout for the bookstore.

That should work better than the separate tea bar and checkout station that had been planned at the Wendy’s location, Robson said. Since all the employees will be in the same general area, everyone will be trained to do all tasks.

“It’s much easier that way to make sure customers are always being taken care of,” he said, so if no one is buying tea but four people are waiting to buy books, employees can shift to cover that need.

Robson and his wife, Kathy, will be closing their popular Red Lodge Books & Tea and moving their inventory and all their shelving to the Billings store. They will also be moving their tea bar into the new store.

In a press release, tea bar manager Gwen Gunn said the bar will be doing “more house blends, more exotic teas, and more herbs and spices.” It will will also be offering sidewalk seating.

Gunn said she hopes to open with almost 200 varieties of tea and herbs sourced from all over the world and blended at the store. The tea bar will also sell teaware, loose tea and tea by the cup, in addition to tea lattes, boba tea, matcha shots and a variety of tea-based specialty drinks.

And since the store will be across the street from the Alberta Bair Theater, the tea bar could stay open late to cater to after-event crowds. Being two blocks from the Billings Public Library and on the same block of Third Avenue as Barjon’s Books should also make for some interesting collaborations, Robson said.

With a lease in hand, Robson is scheduling book signings and talks as well as poetry readings, tea tastings and nights for playing tabletop games. The store is also hiring help.

You can learn more about employment opportunities, and about how to become a member of the bookstore cooperative, by visiting ThisHouseOfBooks.com.

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