Books and Mortar Bringing Independent Bookstore to Grand Rapids

By Jane Whitttington on March 21st, 2016 / Comments

A new bookstore is coming to Grand Rapids. With two bookstores selling new books, both on the congested commercial strip of 28th Street, Grand Rapids hasn’t had an independent, neighborhood seller of new books for many years. But that is about to change. Christopher Roe and Jonathan Shotwell, both of whom attended college in Grand Rapids, are looking forward to opening Books and Mortar sometime in the summer of 2016. As their website states, their mission is “to be a community-minded independent bookstore that enhances the quality of life for the people of Grand Rapids, Michigan through promoting a literacy culture, curating a socially conscious book selection, providing community space for open dialogue, offering retail space for local artists and affirming the freedom of speech”.

Firm believers in the philosophy of community-minded shopping, that of shopping locally when at all possible, they intend their store to be an integral part of a neighborhood, connected to and participating in their urban venue.

Roe attended Grand Valley State University and went on to Northwestern University’s Garrett–Evangelical Theological Seminary near Chicago. Shotwell graduated from Cornerstone and also studied at the Garrett –Evangelical Theological Seminary. Both are ordained ministers currently working in Chicago. But all that is about to change.bookstore1

Shotwell says, “We have hired the moving company, purchased a home in the Ottawa Hills neighborhood in Grand Rapids and are solidifying our plans for the opening of Books and Mortar.”

He continues, “We are in the final stages of firming up our location. We aren’t quite ready to announce where the store will be, but we should be making that announcement within the next few weeks. Someone said to us, ‘I hope it won’t be on 28th Street.’ Our answer to that is that it will be just the opposite. We’ll be located in an urban neighborhood with easy access. We plan to start the renovation process in June and are aiming for a soft opening in August.”

Roe adds, “We starting talking about this plan a year or so ago. We know that two independent bookstores in downtown Grand Rapids closed over the last five years, but we think what we have to offer is something people are craving—a friendly, neighborhood spot which will include a coffee shop (we are negotiating with a local café to open their second location in our facility), a full and carefully curated selection of books and a casual atmosphere. The location we are looking at also has a large outdoor space, and we hope this will be an attraction during the warmer months.”

Roe’s mother is a librarian, and she has been helpful in thinking about the inventory for Books and Mortar. They are also working with Ingram Content Group, a service provider to the book industry. Roe and Shotwell plan to carry a wide selection of books, including a robust children’s and young adult section. To begin, they will also be carrying some used books.

Shotwell says, “We intend to host events at Books and Mortar and have already made sure all our shelving units will be on wheels so that we can open up the space for music, author talks and other live experiences.”

The two recently attended a conference for the Great Lakes Independent Book Sellers. Naturally, Amazon was a much-discussed topic of conversation.

Shotwell says, “We learned that while Amazon is impacting big box stores’ sales, it has less of an impact on independent book stores. People still want the bookstore experience, the feeling that they are a part of the city, the neighborhood and the patrons and staff of the bookstore. That’s what we will provide.”

For more information on Books and Mortar (and the all-important announcement of their location) go to or their Facebook page.

About the Author

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grand Rapids. A Michigan native and Michigan State University grad, she enjoys reading, travel, politics and volunteering.