Featured Indie Bookstore: Raven Bookstore | Lawrence, Kansas

First, give some background information about yourself and Raven Bookstore.

RB: The Raven was founded in 1987 as a specialty mystery-only bookstore, and has since expanded to be the only new general-interest bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas. In 2021, after 34 years at our original location, the Raven moved to a newly-renovated 1865 storefront on historic Massachusetts Street. I, Danny Cain, moved to Lawrence in 2014 to get an MFA in poetry from the University of Kansas. While working on my degree, I got a part-time Raven bookseller job and fell in love with the place, so much so that I bought it upon graduating with my degree.

Why did you, or the owners, decide to open a bookstore?

RB: Since I’m not the original owner, I can’t speak for them, but I’m fairly certain the original owners (Pat Kehde and Mary Lou Wright) were huge readers of mystery books and they saw a space for a store that celebrated that genre in our city. They were both at the point in their careers where they were ready to work in a field they were passionate about. 

Was a bookstore a major need in your area?

RB: Lawrence in particular is a literary town, with a long line of great writers and artists, plus an artistic culturally-engaged population. Their amazing support for us over decades is a pretty strong indication that we’re filling a need.

What kind of reading trends do you see with your customers?

RB: I’m consistently amazed at the resilience of print books. How many times have we decided the internet would kill the book? But the paper book continues to sell, and to sell with surprising robustness. No matter what happens, people still turn to books. In terms of smaller trends, nonfiction and fiction have been taking turns as the dominant sought-after books for us, and this year it seems to be swinging back to fiction. We’ve also been selling a lot more Sci-fi and poetry, both of which are things to celebrate.

What do you like the most about owning and working in an indie bookstore?.

RB: My favorite part of my job is easily the great team of booksellers I get to spend every day with. I’m proud to be surrounded by these folks, and I’m constantly amazed by their ideas, energy, and passion.

What do you think the future of indie bookstores will look like?

RB: I think indie bookstores have all had to come to terms with existing at least a little bit online, whether that’s selling books online, running a bookshop page, or expanding their social media presence while their stores were locked down. I don’t see that going away, but I also don’t see the traditional in-person community work going away either.

How important is it to you to have novels and other types of literature of different cultures, backgrounds, and countries in your bookstore?

RB: So important! We have one of the few translated literature subscription programs in the country, for instance. Publishing has been dominated at all levels for too long by a too-narrow range of voices. It’s an urgent problem that requires big change. One bookstore in Kansas trying to correct that via loving, adventurous curation won’t fix the industry, but it will, hopefully, get our community to pick up a broad and exciting range of books from all kinds of voices. Multiply that by the thousands of indie bookstores across the country, and maybe we can get somewhere

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Article originally Published in the October / November 2021 Issue: Read Global

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