This July, Jim and Staci Stuart of Albion, Michigan, will reopen Books & More of Albion as Stirling Books & Brew, despite an accident during renovations that left Staci paralyzed from the waist down.
Just two days before the store’s planned reopening, the couple was moving a bookshelf when it fell on top of Staci, compressing her spine and knocking her vertebrae out of line. Unfortunately, insurance won’t cover the largest portion of Staci’s $177,000 in hospital costs as the Stuarts had a two-day lapse in health insurance coverage due to Jim’s recent job change.
To that end, Staci’s friends and family launched Support Staci, a website aimed at raising money for her hospital bills, which has already taken in around $5,000. Stuart said he has also been in contact with the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc), a nonprofit organization that assists booksellers in need.
Jim said he and Staci have been overwhelmed by the amount of support they have received from the community so far: volunteers have stepped up to help continue the renovations, and Albion City Manager Sheryl Mitchell and city council member Sonya Brown have helped organize volunteer and fundraising efforts.
Seeing how the community has come out to support them, said Jim, “has been a crazy, surreal, and, in a lot of ways, wonderful experience. Seeing such an outpouring of support and love has been just an amazing, amazing thing.”
For the moment, said Jim, he and Staci are doing alright, in part due to help from the people of Albion.
“After we bought the store, we closed in April to remodel and we had a couple dozen friends come in to help at different times. But after the accident in May, pretty much everybody wanted to help,” said Jim. “I must have had 35 people come in on the two days I was putting the flooring down.”
Jim said they considered opening the store without Staci there but decided to wait until she is out of rehab. Staci is currently staying at Mary Free Bed, a medical facility in Grand Rapids; Jim stays with her there most days and goes back to check on the store once or twice a week.
“She is working hard and we’re pretty much ready to come home,” said Jim, noting that Staci’s official date to return home is June 21. “Then we’re opening the bookstore maybe right after the Fourth of July, to give her a chance to get acclimated.”
The Stuarts bought the bookstore’s building in the city’s downtown historic district from Dorothy Dickerson, who has owned Books & More of Albion since 2002. At first, their plan was to open a coffee shop with fresh baked goods, but Dickerson, who will continue working at the store, approached them about carrying on the bookstore’s legacy.
Under the Stuarts’ ownership, the 2,000-square-foot store’s young adult and children’s section will expand, as will the café’s menu, and a used-books-for-credit program will be implemented. Eventually, the Stuarts would like to expand into the open space next door.
They are also planning to host special events a few nights a week, featuring trivia, performances, presentations and meetings on local community issues, and live music. Jim said they hope these evenings will be a draw to local students from Albion College.
“We want to think of ourselves more as a venue that just so happens to be a bookstore and a coffee shop, so we’re pretty focused on those evening events, and we’re using that to get traffic into the bookstore so we can be profitable in our brick-and-mortar bookselling business,” said Jim.
Jim said that, at first, the couple will split up store duties based on Staci’s new limitations, with Staci preparing before the store opens each day, the staff working the daytime hours, and Staci and Jim handling the evening shift.
To donate to Staci Stuart via PayPal, visit the Support Staci website. All financial gifts will go into Staci’s personal account and will be applied directly toward her medical expenses.