Raven Book Store seeing more foot traffic in its new home on Mass. Street
photo by: Chad Lawhorn
Maybe you are one of the slew of people who moved to town earlier this month. If so, you should feel bad if you still have some boxes to unpack. Danny Caine and his staff at The Raven Book Store recently unpacked 13,000 books in three and half days.
Of course, they’ve also been thinking about how to pull off that feat for about a year.
Caine signed the letter of intent to relocate Lawrence’s longest-serving independent bookstore from its Seventh Street location to a prime spot on Massachusetts Street on Aug. 20, 2020. The Raven completed its move to 809 Massachusetts Street in recent days. It had been at its 6 E. Seventh Street location since its founding in 1987, said Caine, who has owned the shop since 2017.
“On balance, it was a slow and frustrating process,” Cain said of the entire project, which at one point he had expected to be completed in the spring. “But it also was very fun.”
A bit dusty, too. The project involved a ton of construction work. If you remember, the space at 809 Massachusetts previously was home to Blade & Timber, an axe throwing entertainment establishment. That business vacated, though, after the building caught on fire in October 2019.
The interior was a complete gut job, but Caine could picture what it could be. When we first reported on the pending move of The Raven in October, Caine told me the goal was to have a beautiful bookstore that caused people to “immediately pull out their cell phones to take a picture.”
The end product features a restored tin ceiling, newly finished wood floors, brightly colored bookshelves and a large storefront window with old-style, gold leaf-like lettering proclaiming “fiction, poetry, mystery” inside.
Cats, too. No, the front window doesn’t proclaim that, but everybody surely knows about the felines of The Raven. If you don’t know about the longtime store pets, hopefully you are watching where you sit, or else you may meet one of them the wrong way.
The Raven’s new design features several nooks and crannies that are meant to be sitting areas for people to leisurely flip through a book they are thinking about buying. But you will need to beat the cats to the spot. They frequently use the seats to not only think about napping but to actually do so.
Still, customers are making good use of the space. The occasional seating, the wider aisles and other such details were a big part of Caine’s vision for the new space.
“We definitely wanted it to be more comfortable for people to browse,” Caine said.
The sales floor of the bookstore is about 50% bigger than The Raven’s old space on Seventh Street. The children’s section is one of the areas that received the largest expansion.
The entire store is double the size of the old Seventh Street location, but a good amount of the space is back-office work areas, which have become much more important since the pandemic.
That’s because online book sales have become a major part of The Raven’s business model. During parts of the pandemic, 100% of sales were online as the bookstore closed its sales floor to the public due to COVID concerns. Now, with the sales floor back open, online sales make up 20% to 30% of The Raven’s revenues. Before the pandemic, online sales accounted for about 1%.
Caine doesn’t see online sales ever reverting back to where they were prior to the pandemic. On the other hand, he said he’s not trying to build a business where selling to folks outside of Lawrence becomes the primary business.
“We always will be focused on being the best bookstore for Lawrence,” Caine said. “But if that message resonates outside of Lawrence, that is great too.”
Caine, though, said he’s most looking forward to seeing more activity in the actual store. The move to Massachusetts Street — even though the old store was less than a half block off of Mass. — has made a tremendous difference in the amount of foot traffic in the store. Caine said there are many periods on weekends where the amount of foot traffic in the store has doubled.
While COVID concerns remain, having people back in the store has been exciting, he said.
“In some ways it is easier and much more natural to sell books in person,” Caine said. “We all entered bookselling in a person-to-person environment. We enjoy plugging into the community, and that is a much more graceful thing to do in person.”
Caine said he’s not certain when The Raven will start having in-store events — like book readings — again. There’s a strong desire to resume those events, but it is not clear whether the store will schedule any for 2021, he said.
But The Raven is hosting a couple of off-site, outdoor events as part of its grand opening celebration. Kansas author Sarah Smarsh, author of the memoir “Heartland,” will be featured at a ticketed event at 7 p.m. Sept. 7 in an outdoor area at the Cider Gallery in the East Lawrence Warehouse Arts District.
The Raven also plans to host a poetry reading at 7 p.m. on Sept. 10 at Watson Park, along with several virtual events that will be held throughout the course of the week.