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Bolin Books celebrates Independent Bookstore Day

MURRAY – Since 2013, the final Saturday in April is celebrated as Independent Bookstore Day. Not unlike Record Store Day, which was last Saturday, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) established the day to highlight, promote and celebrate the value of the indie bookstore community. 

 Tomorrow (Saturday, April 27), Bolin Books will join more than 900 independent bookstores nationwide in commemorating the day. The bookstore, located at 304 Main Street, is celebrating with extended hours – they will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow, instead of the usual 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be giveaways all day, and younger children are invited for storytime at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

“Independent Bookstore Day is all about celebrating what independent bookstores bring to their community,” explained Whitney Bolin, co-owner of Bolin Books, which is the only ABA-member bookstore in western Kentucky. 

“It’s a push to get everyone, all at once, to come out and support independent bookstores,” she said, “and it’s also (a way) to say, ‘We’re here. You can come to us and pick out a book instead of having to wait a couple of days to have it shipped to you; and, like all small businesses, when you buy from us and you support us, you’re bringing money to Murray or keeping it in Murray.’”

Regardless of what day it is, indie bookstores have the potential to fill unique roles in their communities by offering spaces where people can “meet and talk and chat and bond over books.”

“It’s a place for people to be able to talk about books and to come and sit for a while,” Whitney said. “It’s all about community. (As opposed to a chain bookstore) that feels very commercial. They’re big because they offer everything, and everything is new.”

Bolin Books is primarily a used bookstore, which, according to Whitney, can be advantageous for an avid reader but also for the community at large. 

“You can buy a couple of books and not feel like you have to weed out – although, if you’re a big reader, you still have to weed out from a big, tall stack,” she said and laughed before adding, “It allows us to have lower price points because we are a used bookstore, which allows more people to have access to more books.”

The Bolins rely on different sources to stock their shelves, with a main source being donations from patrons. While they accept all donations, they would prefer that donors keep their magazines and encyclopedias at home, mostly because the store lacks the space to house them but also because there is no market for them. 

They also have some “remainders” on offer, which Whitney described as “new-ish” books., “extras from the publishers that we buy from wholesalers.” Other sources include library sales, thrift stores, yard sales. 

“Anywhere you can find books, we’ve probably shopped there,” she added. “We’ve put lots of miles on our car.” 

Another benefit of independent bookstores is the personal touch they can bring to the experience.

“We hire people who love books,” Whitney said. “So, if you’re getting back into reading or you’ve kind of run through all the things you knew about, and you’d like to talk with someone about what to read next, you can say, ‘I’m looking for something cozy,’ or ‘I’m looking for something that going to really scare me.’ I had a young girl come in and ask, ‘I want a book that will make me sob. Help me find a book that’s just going to make me cry.’ We can help people find out what they like to read.”

The idea to open a bookstore came during the pandemic. Whitney said she and her husband Wesley were spending more time at home. “We were talking about what we want our life to look like, and he brought up the idea of what if we did open up a bookstore – because we don’t even have, like, a Barnes & Noble or a Books-A-Million here – and I told him, ‘Well, I’ve actually had this dream since I was a little, little girl.’”

The couple had been selling used books online for years already, so “it just felt like the natural fit.” With that, Wesley, who is a teacher at Murray High School, spent summer break sourcing books, and the couple began cataloguing their inventory at home. 

“I think we brought 75 cardboard boxes of books when we started,” Whitney recalled. 

The Bolins had inventory, but they had yet to find a location. They knew they wanted the store to be downtown. In August 2022, they were still scouting buildings when Wesley’s father, Murray State University history professor Dr. Duane Bolin, suddenly passed away.  

“Duane was also a big reader,” Whitney said. “The house that Wesley grew up in is wall-to-wall bookshelves. So, Duane was so excited; and we thought (since) he’s retired and Evelyn, his wife, is retired as well, so we thought it could be kind of a family project that we could all work on together.” 

Not long after the funeral, a store on the 300 block of Main Street opened up, “and everything just fell into place.” Maximizing Wesley’s time off for Fall Break, the couple started moving in October. The store was open for business in time for MSU’s Homecoming Weekend, which features a parade down Main Street.

What started with two rooms of books and has now grown to three, but they have no intention of stopping there. Whitney said they have plans to renovate upstairs. At present, the second floor of the building, which was built in the 1880s, is completely unfinished and has no electricity. The new space would allow them to host events, like readings and book clubs.

“Right now, our space isn’t suited super well for those,” Whitney acknowledged. “You can really only fit 10 adults max in each of our rooms.”

The first phase of renovations will include removing the concrete blocks sealing the upstairs windows and putting up a sign. Whitney said they are anxious to get the sign, but that will have to wait until the new windows are installed.

“We would like to do as much historical preservation as we can,” she added. “That’s something that Wesley really loves and cares about.”

Reflecting on the past year and a half of being a small business owner, Whitney said she was surprised at just how much she has had to learn. There were obvious things, like sales tax and payroll taxes, but some of the lessons learned were more subtle. 

“It’s a roller coaster, owning a small business, because there are fat times and there are lean times,” she said. “Especially when you’re new, you don’t have data to go back to and say, ‘It’s going to be okay; January and February are slow because it’s cold and people don’t want to leave their houses.’”

Another surprise Whitney shared – “Books are heavy. I have to say I am glad I did some weightlifting in the years before we opened the bookstore, which has been a great benefit. It’s more physically taxing than I – I mean, I knew but hadn’t thought through that part.”

But perhaps the biggest surprise for Whitney has been how the community has turned out to support their entrepreneurial endeavor.

“Which, I should not be surprised about; I love Murray for a reason,” she said. “And we do this here for a reason. There are other bookstores in town but none of our size and selection. Part of our mission with our bookstore is we very much want everyone to feel welcome because we want books to be accessible to everyone. That’s an important part of owning a bookstore for us.” 

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.

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