After being forced to temporarily close their shop to customers last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, Pagination Bookshop LLC’s owners feared their young independent bookstore was going to be a short story.
The shop, which opened in a 1905-built house on East Walnut Street in April 2019, is the passion project of Jennifer Murvin and fiance Kory Cooper. Pagination Bookshop occupies roughly 1,400 square feet of the 3,400-square-foot house near National Avenue.
Just weeks shy of its first anniversary, the bookstore closed to in-person shopping until late July. Prior, the owners had viewed the shop’s website as a nonfactor, as only one or two orders were placed online per month.
“We were in talks to close our website because we didn’t do very much on it,” Cooper says. “Then there was the shutdown and our website saved us.”
Murvin says over those four months almost all sales, which includes new and used books, puzzles, stationery and toys, moved online. The couple estimates the website now generates over 100 orders a month – a pace that continued even after the bookshop reopened last summer.
“Everything pivoted online really beautifully. People maybe didn’t realize we had a full online store,” Murvin says, noting the website platform is provided for $175 per month to independent bookstores through the American Booksellers Association.
Pagination Bookshop added book bundles to its online offerings last year, priced at $25 for five used books and $50 for children’s picture or board books.
The e-commerce success transformed what could have resulted in the end of the bookstore, Murvin says. Annual revenue grew 115% in 2020, she says, declining to disclose figures.
“It helped that Amazon stopped shipping books for a couple months right at the beginning of the pandemic,” Murvin says. “There was also a kind of wonderful push and energy of everybody supporting local community businesses. I just wasn’t expecting that, which was awesome.”
Pagination Bookshop was hardly alone in its e-commerce success last year. According to the ABA, online sales for independent bookstores jumped 680% in 2020. The association’s most recent data from 2019 listed 2,524 independent shops in operation nationwide.
At Pagination Bookshop, Murvin says new books generate 75% of sales, followed by 15% for used books. Miscellaneous items, such as puzzles, make up the remainder.
While the bookstore is the first ownership venture for Murvin and Cooper, it isn’t their full-time professional focus. Murvin is an assistant professor in the English department at Missouri State University, and Cooper does software administration at Bass Pro Shops.
Murvin says operating the bookshop with just one full-time employee equates to at least another 40 hours a week for the couple, when accounting for management of vendors, book orders and housework in the bookshop.
“No one said no, which I’m shocked about, looking back,” Murvin says of opening the shop. “Everyone I talked to said to do it.”
Murvin says the moment she drove past the house at 1150 E. Walnut St., she thought it was perfect.
“When you walk in, you see the built-in bookshelves,” she says. “This was meant to be a bookstore.”
After buying the house and tackling several months of renovations, along with work by Rose Construction, Stinson Building Co. and BatesForum LLC, the couple had invested around $70,000, Murvin says.
Murvin and Cooper originally operated a short-term rental via Airbnb on the second floor but stopped in January 2020.
“It was just too much to do, teaching full time and running the shop. So, we actually rent space out to three small businesses up there right now,” she says, declining to disclose the lease rates for the 400-square-foot spaces.
417 Beauty by Sam and Brash Esthetics Studio are two of the businesses, and the third space is yet to be filled, she says.
When Artistree Pottery LLC launched last fall in the Rountree neighborhood, co-owner Rachel Barks says finding a cross-promotional opportunity with Pagination Bookshop was on her to-do list. Barks and Murvin were friends before they became business owners, she says.
“Once I opened the pottery shop, one of my visions was that it would be fantastic to do a story time with her bookshop,” she says, noting Murvin comes monthly to the one-hour event aimed at children ages 2 to 12. “We’d read stories and kids could paint and they’d receive the book from Pagination and the figurine they painted from here.”
There’s no investment beyond time for the business arrangement, Barks says, adding the cost for participants is $20. Recent story times include “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Narwahl: Unicorn of the Sea.”
“We loved that it’s two small, local, independent shops collaborating together,” Barks says.
Murvin and Cooper hope to get involved in more community collaborations, as well as resume in-person author events, book clubs and readings that stopped in March 2020.
“We probably had something going on at least every other weekend,” Cooper says.
The recent rise of local COVID case numbers has the bookshop owners concerned, delaying in-store events such as author signings and book readings to an undetermined date and leading them to reinstate their masking requirement for customers and employees.
The couple also intend to add more outdoor seating in the backyard, and they fully expect maintenance of their 116-year-old house to continue.
“We have a lot of plans to keep building and evolving the space,” Cooper says.
Murvin says they’ve spent around $10,000 in the building’s upkeep beyond the initial investment.
“You’re in a relationship with a historic building,” she says.
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