The Raven earns national honor with ‘Bookstore of the Year’ recognition from Publishers Weekly

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The Raven Book Store is pictured on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The Raven was recognized by Publishers Weekly Tuesday as its "Bookstore of the Year," beating out four other booksellers around the country for the honor.

The Raven Book Store, already a fixture of downtown Lawrence, has added a nationwide honor to its resume — the locally owned bookseller was recognized Tuesday by Publishers Weekly as its “Bookstore of the Year.”

In receiving the recognition, the Raven beat out four stores located across the country: Books Are Magic, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Mitchell’s Book Corner, of Nantucket, Mass.; Two Birds Books, of Santa Cruz, Calif.; and Madison Books, of Seattle.

The Raven’s owner, Danny Caine, spoke with the Journal-World about the honor Wednesday afternoon. Caine was quick to shower praise on the other nominees, calling them “amazing stores.” He said booksellers form a community that ignores geographical distance, and it shows in how they root for one another. Fellow finalist Books Are Magic even sent the Raven congratulatory flowers, Caine said, and Madison Books tweeted that it was hoping for a five-way tie for the award.

“A couple really exciting new upstarts, and a couple of total icons in the bookselling world, and people we really look up to,” Caine said. “One of the biggest honors of this whole thing was just being able to be mentioned in the same breath so many times with those other great stores that we look to for inspiration and guidance and solidarity and friendship.”

Caine said it’s a recognition that doesn’t happen without the support of the shop’s patrons. Bookselling is community work, he said, and the community is what allows for the Raven’s ability to pursue social justice work and a feasible employee ownership program, among other things.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn

Owner Danny Caine is pictured in The Raven’s new children’s book section. The children’s section in the new store is significantly larger than what was in the old store.

Caine bought the bookstore five years ago and sold 49% of its ownership to employees in January. As it stands, there are seven of those employee-owners, and Caine said they and the store’s 14 other booksellers have all played key roles in making the Raven an award-winning business.

Caine passed along a message that one of those employee-owners, children’s manager Mary Wahlmeier Bracciano, shared Tuesday after learning the Raven had won the award.

“In my experience, growing up in Kansas means being made to feel insignificant, inferior and ill-informed,” Wahlmeier Bracciano said. “Being a part of the Raven has made me realize that Kansas is beautiful, Kansas is special, and if people like us stick around, Kansas will be a better place. This award is for everyone who’s ever worked at the Raven, for all of our customers — especially our regulars, many of whom are treasured friends — and for our wonderful cats, Dashiell and Ngaio.”

An award like this doesn’t happen in a vacuum, though. Caine said everyone at the store owes it not just to their present-day work but also to the foundation set by its former owners: Pat Kehde and Mary Lou Wright, who owned the Raven from 1987 to 2008, and Heidi Raak, who owned the Raven from 2008 to 2017.

“… There was 30 years of hard work before I got here, and all the previous owners understood that, too,” Caine said. “We’re just hoping to continue their legacy of community-building.”

It’s a time to stop and celebrate, but Caine said the work is never done. As for what’s next, Caine said everyone at the Raven is working hard to make the store and the world a better place. To that end, he noted a few goals for the future. Long term, he said the store will continue to settle in at its new location at 809 Massachusetts St. and build on its employee ownership structure.

But in the more immediate future, Caine said the Raven plans to have a voice in the conversation about reproductive rights in Kansas. In the shop proper, Caine said there’s been an expansion to the store’s children’s book and genre fiction sections, and the hope is to keep building on that growth.

“It’s another chapter in a really long story,” Caine said. “The story of the Raven in Lawrence is a really wonderful story; we’re happy to play a small part in this chapter of it.”

photo by: Nick Krug

Raven Book Store owner Danny Caine is pictured with one of the shop’s cats in this file photo from 2017.


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