Nonprofit Market Street Books Turns Five

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Photo: RJ Paul

Kathryn Henderson bought a travel bookstore, World Traveler Books and Maps, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 2002. In the five years since, she has changed the business' location twice, given it a new name, and transformed its mission. On Friday, December 21, Henderson's Market Street Books, now a nonprofit, will celebrate its fifth anniversary by awarding door prizes and serving refreshments. The schedule of events includes a string quartet, readings by local authors, face painting, and a children's improv session.

Henderson started her bookselling career at World Traveler and within two years bought the store. Soon after, she moved the bookstore to the more pedestrian-friendly Market Street and renamed the business Market Street Books and Maps. The problem with being a travel bookstore, she said, was that business was great during the travel season but quiet otherwise. Henderson decided to transform the business into a full-service general bookstore with a travel-and-maps section. In the spring of 2006, Market Street Books moved again, dropped its travel section for the most part, and became a North Carolina nonprofit.

"It's an interesting business model," Henderson said. "In addition to being a general bookstore, we also have excellent instructors teaching classes on writing, art, and kids' art. The same space works for an oil painting class, a tai chi class, and a memoir class. We have author events a couple of nights a week and music on the weekends. We also had two full professional theater productions."

Henderson had previous experience as the manager of a nonprofit, so she was comfortable with the model. The benefits of becoming a nonprofit business recognized by North Carolina includes the right to request its state sales tax be returned and to apply for state arts grants. Henderson said that she hopes to use grant money to bring in performers. "We've got such a great performance space, and we're in the process of establishing a regular ongoing, performance cycle. We live in an area with a ridiculous number of talented musicians and actors," she said. The organizational structure has also enabled Market Street Books to apply for 501(c)(3) status.

Henderson, an American who spent her formative years in Oslo, Norway (her father worked at the Norwegian Embassy), said she modeled Market Street after a bookstore she frequented as a child. "I had the picture of that [Oslo] bookstore in my head," she said. "It was just what you think of when you imagine the quintessential neighborhood bookstore. People often describe our store as a quintessential bookstore. I know everyone's name, their children's names...." Henderson said expanding Market Street to serve as a full-fledged community center seemed a "natural fit."

The bookstore's new location, with 2,200 square feet of selling space, is about one-third larger than the previous site, and is a "beautiful space," said Henderson. "It's got windows on three sides.... We have bookcases that roll, which make it possible to have a performance space here. We can set up in 10 minutes tops with two people. It's flexible."

In addition to adding the performance space, Market Street capitalized on the extra room by adding a 200-square-foot newsstand, card, and candy shop. "I knew it would add traffic, and I wanted to bring in a consumable," Henderson explained. "Not a lot of people need five copies of A Tale of Two Cities, but sometimes they need five greeting cards in a month, or in a week. It adds up really fast. And it's a natural tie-in. I think it's a good investment, and they're fun."

Market Street also does well with the Book Sense Gift Cards, said Henderson. "People give them to kids as gifts. People also like sending to them if they've got, say, a sister-in-law in Denver, and they want to send her something she'll use at Tattered Cover. We're not far from Quail Ridge, so sometimes someone will buy a card for a friend in Raleigh. We encourage it. Quail Ridge is a good friend of ours."

Henderson said that Quail Ridge Books & Music owner Nancy Olson and staff members Sarah Godin and René Martin were indispensable when she was first launching her business and have been a great help throughout the bookstore's five years. "I can't even begin to thank them. Nancy always made me feel like a professional bookseller, even when I was not," she explained. "To this day, if I have a question, I don't hesitate to call."

Along with its many arts programs and performance events, Market Street shows the work of a different local artist each month. It also introduced "Peepfest," which honored the pastel marshmallow candies with verse. "We put Peeps all around the store, and handed everyone Peep-colored paper to write poems about them.

"It started out as something fun and silly, but it got people to write poetry. It's a good way to describe the overall mission of the community center. Anything that we can do to give people an opportunity to express their creativity that's fun and makes sense to them, that's what we're trying to do here." --Karen Schechner