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The Raven Book Store has been shortlisted for the biggest award a bookstore in America can receive.
Publishers Weekly announced Tuesday that the downtown Lawrence store with a 35-year heritage is this year’s Bookstore of the Year.
Danny Caine, majority owner of the Raven, said the store joins an incredible line of winners that includes “a few of our hero stores”.
The Raven has had a lot of success and recognition over the years, and Caine said the store is able to do what it does thanks to the support of the Lawrence community. He cited Raven’s advocacy work, expanding sections of the store, moving to a new location on Massachusetts Street last year and the company’s transition to an employee-ownership model, as examples.
“The security of knowing that we have a consistent base of support from our community really helps us and allows us to do cool things,” he said, “and then we get recognized for the cool things, and that makes really good.”
Massive corporations like Amazon have been devastating to independent bookstores around the world — and it’s something Caine is quite familiar with, as he wrote the book about it. But even in this environment, the Raven is thriving. Caine said “good bookstore and community building” are among the reasons.
“Their main goal is to collect data and explode their profits for the people at the top of the company,” Caine said. “That’s not our point. We want to be the bookstore Lawrence, Kansas needs, and do our part any way we can with our business, platform, and advocacy to help grow and enrich the Lawrence community.
The bookstore supports the community, and the community supports the bookstore, he said — and for the Raven, that exchange began three and a half decades ago.
“That’s how you build a strong library. Because the community is so important to you, and you are so important to the community, this exchange is lasting power,” he said. “And it gets you through any type of storm, whether it’s Amazon, Borders, or a pandemic.”
So the store can handle the ups and downs of a small business. And it’s circular: thanks to the support of the community, the Raven can enable people to build a career in the bookstore.
And the effect is not limited to Lawrence, as noted by Publishers Weekly.
“Authors, booksellers and publishing professionals testified to how, with creativity and panache, the Raven and (Kurtis Lowe of Book Travelers West, named Trade Representative of the Year) have supported authors and books during the pandemic — and that their actions, in fact, supported the independent bookstore industry itself,” according to Publishers Weekly’s article on the award.
Mary Wahlmeier Bracciano, an employee owner of the Raven, said in a statement that, in her experience, “growing up in Kansas means feeling insignificant, inferior and uninformed.”
“Being part of The Raven made me realize that Kansas is beautiful, Kansas is special, and if people like us stay, Kansas will be a better place,” she said. “This award is for everyone who has worked at The Raven before, for all of our customers, especially our regulars, many of whom are valued friends, and for our wonderful cats, Dashiell and Ngaio.”
Looking ahead, Caine said he and his fellow booksellers want to continue.
“It’s really great to be recognized for the work, but the work is not done,” he said. “We are thinking of ways to contribute to the fight for abortion access and reproductive justice in Kansas; we’re thinking of ways to support readers of all ages in Kansas; we are concerned about the book ban movement in this country right now.
They want to “continue the amazing work the Raven has been doing for 35 years, this bookstore, and find out how we can meet the needs of the community as well,” Caine said.
Other award finalists included Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, New York; Mitchell’s Book Corner, Nantucket, Massachusetts; Two Birds Books, Santa Cruz, CA; and Madison Books, Seattle.
Check out Raven’s regular bestseller lists at this link.
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Mackenzie Clark (her), journalist/founder of the Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-422-6363. Read more about his work for The Times here. Check out his staff biography here.
More National Champions from Lawrence:
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Free State High School seniors Serena Rupp and John Marshall won the final round of the Tournament of Champions on Monday night by a 2-1 decision to become national champions.