Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s July 2017 issue. Never miss an issue, check out SFM’s digital editions, here!
article by Erica Shea
photos courtesy of This House of Books
When the long days of July have your family looking for a new place to escape the heat, head downtown to This House of Books, Billings’ newest independent bookstore. Precious McKenzie, VP of the Billings Bookstore Cooperative Board of Directors, filled us in on what to expect and why it’s an asset to our community.
What does it mean to be a co-op bookstore? Why pick this business model?
The cooperative business model means that people purchase actual stock in the company. The money raised from shares of stock covers operating expenses such as buying inventory and paying the rent. We currently have approximately 300 member owners. We chose to use the cooperative model, at the suggestion of former Billings mayor Chuck Tooley, because the steering committee felt deeply committed to building a place for the community to gather and we wanted the cooperative bookstore be truly rooted in Billings and reflect local tastes.
Gustavo Belotta, the store’s general manager, has years of high-quality customer service and bookstore management experience. Plus, as a fixture in the theatre community, he’s planning events that bring in diverse artists. Jamie Winter manages the tea bar and has developed delicious new flavors of hot, iced, Boba, and loose-leaf tea. Our board of directors is also incredibly committed.
Why should families shop at a local bookstore?
Local shopping builds community. Unlike online retail sites, we bring fun, creative events to our town. We host book clubs, weekly game nights, open mic poetry nights, author visits with book signings, educational panels, and special celebrations. We offer poetry contests, book table challenges, and other unique programs. Besides being quirky and smart, we’re in a great location right across from the Alberta Bair Theatre.
We hope to host more writing workshops with the Big Sky Writing Workshops and Billings Area Literary Arts groups. Starting this summer we’ll have monthly themed book clubs, like our Women’s Writers Book Club. Check Facebook for great info about weekly specials and events.
Beyond books, what other products can be found in the store?
We have stuffed animals, puzzles, teaware, socks, calendars, and cards too. We’re also building our inventory of local artwork. We have one of Connie Dillon’s paintings for sale as well as photographs by Renata Haidle and Amber Reinhardt. Oh, and did I mention tea? We have over 150 different varieties of tea, including the Montana favorite, “Evening In Missoula.”
How can our community support the long-term vision of the store?
Our driving focus is bringing programs and books to the Billings community in a one-of-a-kind environment. We listen carefully to our member owners, and we want to expand our inventory so customers can get all of the latest best sellers and find more obscure titles, too. The community can help us get there by shopping here, attending events, and buying shares of stock in the cooperative.
about the author…Erica Shea grew up in Colorado and has lived in Billings for 13 years. She used to dream of owning a combination flower and book shop, and in a small way she’s fulfilled her dream by gardening with her children and frequenting the library. Her family plans to make game nights at This House of Books a new summer tradition.