Books and Mortar Opens in Grand Rapids

By Chucky Blackmore on November 7th, 2016 / Comments

Of the many luxuries that Grand Rapids has to offer, there are two things that are always guaranteed: a variety of books and people who love to read them.  Bookstores continue to grow within the community, and 2016 becomes an especially proud year for readers.  

On Saturday, Oct. 1, readers in Grand Rapids were welcomed a hip, new center for buying books.  Located at 955 Cherry Street SE, Books and Mortar is not only a bookstoreit’s an independent shop where creativity and adventure can spark. Of course, behind all great businesses are the people running it.  

Michigan natives Chris Roe and Jonathan Shotwell were eager for the grand opening of Books and Mortar.  These owners knew Grand Rapids was the perfect city for their business.  

“We want to be a mainstay in Grand Rapids and offer a kind of service and experience that is more personal than a big box bookstore,” said Roe.  

But the idea of operating an independent bookstore didn’t happen overnight.  

Roe and Shotwell met while finishing up their undergraduate education in Michigan.  After moving to Chicago in 2011 to pursue graduate school, Roe recalls their initial business idea.

“We toyed around with what it would be like to work for ourselves,” stated Roe, “but it wasn’t until friends of ours opened their own business that we realized we were the only ones standing in our way of doing something that was meaningful for us as well.”

As much as Chicago offered the breeding ground and resources for a business, Roe and Shotwell knew they wanted to be back in their home state supporting the local readers and economy.  

In addition, Grand Rapids, as Roe stated, has a genuine enthusiasm for independent retail, and Grand Rapidians possess a genuine pride of the city and its neighborhoods.

Why the name Books and Mortar, you ask?  It is a play on the term ‘brick-and-mortar’ retail, which emphasizes that not only is the store a physical space into which you can walk and purchase items, but also that it can be a successful business.  

“[Jonathan and I want to] assure people that brick and mortar retail, particularly bookstores, are not only still around and sustainablethey are doing well,” said Roe.   

The idea of opening a bookstore stemmed from Roe and Shotwell’s love for reading.  Roe is an elementary teacher, so reading is a big part of his job as an educator.  Shotwell, on the other hand, enjoys memoirs, and he considers himself an enthusiastic outdoorsman.   

“Jonathan and I love books that focus on city development, urban planning, and smart growth,” stated Roe. “These issues particularly resonate with us as we continue to watch Grand Rapids grow and evolve.”

Once the duo arrived to Grand Rapids with the bookstore idea, they knew they were going to need advice and assistance from a small business mentor.  One in particular, SCORE, which is a nationally recognized nonprofit that assists in the success of small businesses, engaged with Roe and Shotwell for a year in a half. The SCORE mentor pushed the two men to conservatively think about all the financial aspects of owning a small business.  

We worked with SCORE on the planning of our business,” said Roe. [The] mentor was an invaluable resource that we couldn’t have done without.”   

In addition to selling books that span myriad genres, welcoming readers with varying tastes, Books and Mortar also holds special events.  On Saturday, Oct. 22, bookstore patrons gathered to listen to award-winning memoirist Melissa Grunow read from her newest work, “Realizing River City.”  

In the future, Roe and Shotwell foresee an extension to the business, in which a beverage area may be placed.  They have also talked about the idea of expanding the business to various parts of Grand Rapids to serve the greater community.  Even the possibility of expanding outside of Grand Rapids has crossed Roe’s mind.

“In our biggest dreams we imagine that we could pull off a similar concept in Detroit,” said Roe, “another city in which we are very inspired to dream and imagine what could be.”

The hours of business for Books and Mortar are flexible for visitors and are  6as follows: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Roe and Shotwell are proud owners of one of the only two independent bookstores in Grand Rapids.  As Books and Mortar continues to serve members of the vibrant reading community, Roe and Shotwell want people to keep one thing in mind: “We are books and we are so much more,  but we are here to stay and grow with the community.”      

About the Author

Chucky Blackmore

Chucky Blackmore

Chucky Blackmore is a fifth-year studying English and Education, with a minor in ESL at Aquinas College. Chucky is also a Resident Assistant and plays lead guitar in Grand Rapids based band Velcrofibs.