Downtown bookstore makes final push for investors

Books

Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

Gary Robson leans on a bookshelf—the stocking will start in a few days—inside This House of Books in downtown Billings.

One way or another, This House of Books is going to open on Oct. 1.

So says Gary Robson, CEO and general manager of the independent cooperative bookstore that signed a lease last month on a 2,800-square-foot retail space at 224 N. Broadway.

Robson hopes it will open with the store on firm financial ground, all the remodeling done and the shelves fully stocked with books and other merchandise.

If the strong push for investors in the coming week is not a complete success, the story will open anyway. But it will be resting on incomplete financing, the restrooms probably won’t be done and the store won’t be fully stocked or staffed.

“This is the final drive,” Robson said. “We’ve been out pulling the final pieces together for months. We need the community’s support right now.”

Robson said he initially hoped to be open early this month, then started shooting for Sept. 27, when Bozeman author David Quammen was scheduled to do a signing for his new book on Yellowstone National Park.

Delays involving permits and inspections, coupled with the lack of investors, led Robson to the new deadline of Oct. 1. He said he has to be open then so the store is up and running smoothly by the time of the High Plains BookFest, of which This House of Books is a co-host. Book fest-related events are scheduled at the store on Oct. 6, 8 and 9.

The original fundraising goal was $250,000 Robson said, but that was reduced to $200,000 when the co-op board shifted its focus from another building to the one it is now leasing, which needed much less remodeling. So far supporters have raised only about $100,000. Some of the members, including Robson, have made bridge loans with their own money, he said, but at this point they simply need more investors.

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As explained on the bookstore’s website, common shares are $100 each, which makes the investor a full voting member of the co-op and gives the investor a 5 percent discount on purchases from the store and its tea bar-cafe. There are four other levels of investment, each with increasing discounts, perks and recognition.

If the goal is not met and the store opens anyway, Robson said, he’s confident that more investors will come aboard after people begin using the bookstore and become aware of the benefits of investing.

The store will also be getting up to $20,000 in grant funding from the Downtown Billings Alliance for some of the remodeling, Robson said, but that money can’t be reimbursed until the work is done and the store is open.

Meanwhile, This House of Books—the name was suggested by a Montana classic, the late Ivan Doig’s “This House of Sky”—is looking more and more complete. One big job was ripping up the old carpet and replacing it with oak flooring, or, in Robson’s words, “brand-spanking-new oak tongue-and-groove.”

Soon, workers will be cutting into the floor to make a stairway down to the basement, which will house an employee break room, storage and an office. The office will also be used to tape podcasts with visiting authors, and the podcasts will be posted on the bookstore website.

The shelving, most of it from Robson’s now-closed bookstore in Red Lodge, is on hand and some of the staff members who have already been hired will be unloading a truckload of books from that store and stocking the shelves starting early next week, with other new inventory on order.

During a tour of the store Thursday, Robson showed where he’ll be stocking fiction, classic and contemporary western literature, children’s books, best-sellers, biographies, nature, science and outdoors books, and young adult science fiction and fantasy.

Near the front door, a table will be reserved for books tied to to upcoming events at the store. Over the next six to eight weeks, Robson said, he has events involving about 40 authors scheduled. This House of Books will also have game nights, music, comedy shows, book club gatherings and more.

For the best-seller section, Robson said, his experience in Red Lodge tells him that the best list for the Billings market will be the one published by IndieBound.org.

“What makes independent bookstores so different from chain bookstores is that every one of them reflects the personality of the community they’re in,” he said. “This is a Billings store. This is a Montana store. We’re having fun bringing in local stuff and bringing in quirky stuff.”

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