The Raven eyes new owners

Bookstore's independent operations to continue

Mary Wheeler, right, of Prairie Village, shops with friends at the Raven Bookstore, 8 E. Seventh St. Co-owners Mary Lou Wright and Pat Kehde plan to sell the shop to at least three prospective buyers, who don't plan major changes for the downtown store that celebrates its 20th anniversary Sept. 8.

The Raven Bookstore, a downtown shop that withstood the opening of a Borders down the street and proliferation of on the Web, is poised to be sold to a new team of independent-minded owners that includes a longtime employee.

Co-owners Mary Lou Wright and Pat Kehde, who opened the Raven 20 years ago at 8 E. Seventh St., have been shopping around for buyers for a year now. Wright even had pledged to close the place down if they didn’t have a deal by the time the final Harry Potter book came out this summer.

Now that the “Deathly Hallows” release has come and gone, Wright and Kehde feel comfortable enough with three prospective co-owners that the friends since college will keep the place going until the deal closes, expected sometime next month.

“It’s a serious commitment that I think will happen,” Wright said. “We’re all exceedingly happy that it will – I will still have a place to buy books.”

The prospective buyers are Kelly Barth, a Lawrence writer who has worked at the Raven for the past 10 years, and two other women: a “very loyal Raven customer” who is a Kansas University graduate, Barth said, and a former Lawrence resident who has a family connection to another prominent downtown business and is planning to move back to town.

“It’s certainly a viable business, and it’s a community institution as far as customers and employees are concerned,” said Barth, who declined to discuss details of the sale because “we don’t want to jinx it.”

Adding a fourth co-owner to the ownership team remains a possibility for the store.

“There’s lots of life left in it,” Barth said. “We just want to see it continue and thrive and grow and change and adapt, and continue to provide really great bookselling.”

Ruth Turney is counting on it. The retired librarian buys as many as 300 books a year from the Raven: about 200 for the Trinity Episcopal Church library she oversees, plus another 100 for herself.

Turney embraces the personal service afforded by the Raven, where employees not only have read the New York Times Book Review but also know where to find books mentioned in the publication or make special efforts to locate them.

“I order obscure things sometimes,” Turney said. “They’re willing to call a publisher in New York and ask them for something that’s been (reviewed) but not yet available. You don’t get that service when you deal with (some) other stores.”

Turney, who says she’s in her 70s, also finds it comforting that the relatively youthful Barth is in line for ownership.

“If I were younger, I would have been interested,” Turney said.

The Raven won’t face any substantial changes, Barth said. Plans include continuing the shop’s emphasis on customer service, plus expanding offerings through the shop’s Web site (

Efforts also will be made to sell publications and present readings from even more Lawrence writers, she said.

“This bookstore has been consistently soulful work – very pleasurable,” Barth said. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than talk about books and put a good book in someone’s hands.”