Mississippi Bookstore Strikes the Right Balance

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Lorelei Books in historic Vicksburg, Mississippi.

In November 2006, Laura Weeks relocated from the Hampton Roads metropolitan area in Virginia with the intention of opening Lorelei Books, a store that would fill a void that existed in the historic town of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Weeks had visited the area several times, and while she appreciated the small, tight-knit community that existed within the town, she noticed that something was missing.

“There were antique shops, gift shops, art galleries, but no bookstore,” she said. “And an independent bookstore is such a cornerstone to a downtown area.”

Weeks also chose Vicksburg as the location for her store rather than Hampton Roads, because, she explained, Hampton Roads is a transient community, where residents are often relocated due to the high number of military bases in the area.

“I knew I would need a strong Shop Local community, where people regard their independent bookseller as their friend and neighbor,” she said. “And that’s what I have here.”

Offerings include an expansive poetry section.

Knowing that the demographics of the Vicksburg would not yield an extremely high sales volume, Weeks created a thorough business plan, which did not include many employees. She is usually the only person manning the store, with friends and customers working “on contract,” if she has to attend a meeting or off-site event.

The store itself is a small, cozy space in the heart of the town’s historic downtown area. Weeks renovated the second floor into a loft, which she and her husband use as a living space and sometimes for bookstore events that require more room.

The loft area/upstairs living space is sometimes called into service when Lorelei hosts larger events.

With limited staff, events are difficult to plan, but Weeks makes it a priority. One upcoming event in particular is important to her on a personal level. On April 30, in celebration of National Poetry Month, Lorelei has partnered with the local library and a writing group to present a night of poetry. The event will feature a reading, followed by a panel discussion by scholars Darrell Bourque, Ann Fisher-Wirth, and Murray Shugars.

“I’m such a champion for poetry,” said Weeks, who admitted to having an extensive amount of store shelf space dedicated to poetry. “It’s often considered under appreciated, but I think it’s just not promoted enough.”

Weeks expects to draw a crowd with the April 30 event, since many of the featured poets have a large following.

“I’ve been hearing murmurs,” she said, adding that a crowd of out-of-state attendees are anticipated. “Poets are funny. They’re kind of like rock stars.”

The poetry event, along with other author events and series that Weeks has created, is part of an effort to cultivate the literary arts scene in Vicksburg.

“My goal is to make Vicksburg more of a destination, not only for its vibrant history, but for the arts. That was the thrust behind the poetry event,” she said. “We’re ending the month on a high note.”

The month also began on strong note, she said. Just two weeks ago, Weeks launched the store’s IndieCommerce website, which she believes to be a vital tool for her business.

“It’s critical. And especially for us, it’s like keeping a foot in both worlds. It’s striking a balance between high-tech and the quaint little bookshop that people seem to desire.”

Customers were eager to start using the site, and one woman in particular brought her iPad into Lorelei Books asking to be the first one to purchase a Google eBook™ from the store. Weeks helped her set up her account, and was able to see what it looks like from the customer’s perspective, which was helpful, she said.

“It was smooth as silk,” Weeks said, adding that the icing on the cake was that the customer went straight to Facebook and commented about her experience. “She was basically plugging the ease of shopping on our site. It was great.”

Though Weeks has no special plans to celebrate the store’s fifth anniversary, she’s confident that Lorelei Books will be around long enough to celebrate a “bigger milestone,” she said, looking to the future with unwavering optimism.

“Speaking for my faith in independent bookstores across the country, if we stay nimble and smart, which most independent booksellers are, and if we’re fortunate enough to have a loyal customer base, we will be around for a while. There’s always going to be another obstacle, there’s always going to be another curveball. But I think we’re going to be able to adapt to those challenges. Just like we’re doing now.”