WordsWorth Books & Co., a 35-year-old independent bookstore in Little Rock, Arkansas, is now under the ownership of two local customers: Lia Lent and Tom McGowan, who are taking over from retiring owner Jean Cazort.
In May, Lent and McGowan formed a new company, WordsWorth Community Bookstore, LLC, for the purpose of acquiring WordsWorth’s operating assets from Cazort; assets were officially transferred over on June 1. According to Lent, who will also be the store’s new manager, the bookstore will now do business as WordsWorth Bookstore.
“In February, Tom had found out that Jean was starting to think about retirement and might be interested in selling, so he and I started talking,” said Lent. “I had retired from my last job so I had some time and interest.”
After forming the LLC, McGowan and Lent began working alongside store staff to learn the bookselling business, starting out by helping with inventory. Going forward, Lent said she and McGowan are dedicated to preserving Cazort’s legacy at the store.
“Jean has built a very loyal customer base, so we want to build on her legacy at the bookstore. I think the foundations of the store are strong, so we’re kind of, as my partner has said, floorwalking for a few months as we learn the business,” said Lent. Lent said she had considered opening a bookstore in the past, but decided that the economic headwinds were too strong. Now, said Lent, “it appears bookstores are stabilizing and starting to thrive again.” While neither she nor McGowan have a background in bookselling, the bookselling business has touched their families’ lives; McGowan’s brother owned his own bookstore for a time, and Lent’s grandfather owned Steinheimer Books, an independent bookstore in Tucson, Arizona, for 35 years before it closed in the 1970s.
Lent said she had considered opening a bookstore in the past, but decided that the economic headwinds were too strong. Now, said Lent, “it appears bookstores are stabilizing and starting to thrive again.” While neither she nor McGowan have a background in bookselling, the bookselling business has touched their families’ lives; McGowan’s brother owned his own bookstore for a time, and Lent’s grandfather owned Steinheimer Books, an independent bookstore in Tucson, Arizona, for 35 years before it closed in the 1970s.
“Tom is an attorney, and I’m a social worker by training; I’ve also managed nonprofit organizations, so I have a lot of management experience,” said Lent. “My husband owns a retail bakery in Little Rock and has for 30 years, so there is really a lot of retail experience there. A bakery is production and selling, which is really hard because you’re producing 150 products every night and selling them every day; at least we don’t have to produce the books!”
Under the new owners, one potential change that may be coming to WordsWorth is a café, Lent said, especially if there is a chance for the store to collaborate with her husband’s bakery. “We would certainly consider doing that, although looking at it, a new café operation can be a little expensive, as many booksellers who have had to do it from scratch know,” she said.
At the moment, Lent is on a trip to the Bay Area in California, where she is visiting Books Inc. in Berkeley, Pegasus Books in Oakland, and a few smaller independent bookstores in Orinda and Montclair to see how these stores handle merchandising and organization and to learn about their experiences with ABA’s IndieCommerce platform. When Lent returns to Little Rock and she and McGowan settle into a routine, they will also begin to look at expanding the store’s engagement with the community.
“We are looking forward to building on the community that uses the bookstore and expanding the network of people who use the bookstore in different ways,” said Lent; this may include hosting more events, adding a schedule of interesting classes, providing access for more book clubs to use the space, and nurturing opportunities to build and expand on existing community partnerships.
“We already have a couple of wonderful partnerships with public groups that bring in speakers; one is the Clinton School of Public Service, which has a really extensive series of nationally known speakers, and the bookstore provides books for their events,” said Lent.
Going forward, the store’s new owners plan to continue to seek input from the local community about what they would like to see on the store’s shelves, Lent said.
“We are going to survey our customers through e-mail and in-store surveys and find out what they want to see more of, or find out what they go elsewhere to buy because they can’t get it with us,” said Lent. “We’re going to start there. Of course, we have a lot of ideas but it’s what, in fact, the community is looking for that is the question.”