WATCH NOW: New owner says bookstore is rooted in community | Business
STEVE CAHALAN For La Crosse Tribune
Beth Hartung, the new owner of Pearl Street Books at 323 Pearl St., says she is rooted in the community.
Indeed, the words “Rooted in Community” appear on the new logo of the bookstore, just like the words “Est. 2000 “and an illustration of an oak tree.
“I really want this value to be lived,” said Hartung, who bought the company from founder Jim Auler in September. “I want this to be a place where the community can come together, where we help educate the community. “
The company has a number of places for people to sit and read or visit each other, including on the mezzanine level which opened in early 2017 when Hartung started working for Auler at the independent bookstore.
“Pearl Street Books needed a place where people could sit and relax and read a book, where you could have book club meetings,” Hartung recalls. “So we emptied the mezzanine”, which was used to store books. “And we’re opening it up as a place for people to sit and relax.”
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Hartung also helped the bookstore increase its social media presence.
“Jim was looking for someone at some point who he would be comfortable selling the store to because he wanted to make sure it could continue to thrive,” Hartung said.
This led Auler to sell the company to him and retire. “He will always buy (used) books for me, when he’s on the go,” Hartung said. “So if he sees a real estate sale or something, he’ll stop” and buy some books for the store. “And he’s there if I ever have any questions.” Now he’s my consultant.
Auler had opened the Wees-Kon-San bookstore at 108 Fifth Ave. N. in 1998. In 2000 he moved the store to its present, much larger location and renamed it Pearl Street Books.
“I think Jim’s (business) model was really good,” Auler said of the store, where she hosted events.
“We had live music here,” she said. “With COVID, it’s difficult because I want to keep people safe.”
It encourages but does not require customers to wear face masks inside the store. “We have a large supply of free masks” in case a customer needs them, she said.
“Some of my friends played music in the store, just to create an atmosphere where people might come in and talk,” Hartung said. “We encourage people to sit down and read. You don’t have to buy a book. You can just go in and grab a used book from the shelf and sit down and read it.
“Authors have also come here to do book dedications or talk about their book,” Hartung said. “We had a few to try and test the waters and see how we can keep people safe by distributing them.”
She hopes to resume book club meetings that haven’t recently been held at the store due to concerns over COVID-19.
Pearl Street Books has an inventory of approximately 55,000 books. About 95% of them are used, Hartung said
The store has a number of old books (at least 100 years old).
It also has special sections, such as one for books on Wisconsin, another for books on neighboring states, and another for books by local authors.
“We also buy books from our customers,” Hartung said. “We’ll do it with store credit or cash. We recommend that you call ahead and make sure I’ll be there ”if anyone wants to sell a book at the store.
Hartung, who has three part-time employees, said Pearl Street Books also sells items such as jewelry, postcards and locally made artwork on consignment.
Hartung said his store and others nearby act like good neighbors by promoting themselves to customers. “It makes a huge difference if you shop at a local location,” she said. Local store owners hire local people and often know their customers’ first names, she said.
Pearl Street Books has done well this year despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Hartung said.
“People may have a little more time to read” because of the pandemic, she said. “But I also think there has been a shift in our community when it comes to buying local. I think people buy gifts or gift cards here to support a local business. We have had a great month.
Hartung grew up on a Dunn County dairy farm and received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in education, both from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She held education and nonprofit jobs before entering the book business.
“I wanted to own a bookstore since I was little,” Hartung said.
“I like people,” Hartung said. “It’s a happy place because you find books for people. It’s good environmental business because we try to keep the books out of the landfill and reuse them. And we help expand the world of people through books. Most people who walk into a bookstore are so nice and wonderful.
Pearl Street Books draws customers from as far away as the Twin Cities; Rochester, Minnesota; and Madison and Milwaukee, Hartung said. She said they are drawn to the store by “A great selection, good prices and a beautiful environment. And people keep saying they don’t see bookstores like this, even in Madison.
The bookstore is a tenant in the historic J. Burgermeister building, built in brick in 1885. The building is being renovated by Meraki Properties, LLC, who purchased it in 2020.
In photos: Rotary Lights 2021