Alumni Sara and Larry Crow have always dreamed of opening a bookstore. Little did they know, the opportunity to act on that dream would happen during a pandemic.
The pair resides in Hutchinson, Kansas, and though they had always hoped to open a bookstore, the plan was not to open one so soon nor to open one in Kansas.
“Larry and I have talked about opening a bookstore for a long time now, though our projected location was a little bit different,” said Sara, a Minnesota native.
“In our many trips up to the North Shore of Lake Superior, we’ve talked repeatedly about ‘retiring’ into a bookstore/tea shop/art gallery on the lake catering both to locals and to tourists who travel the scenic byway along the lake in the summer. In fact, on our last trip to the lake in the summer of last year, we went so far as to hash out a rough business plan to pass the time since it takes a good 15 hours to drive to Lake Superior. We had no idea then that we would be acting on those plans so quickly. “
The space they occupy was previously a local favorite called Bluebird Cafe; upon hearing of the store’s decision to close, they decided this was a great opportunity to act upon their dream.
Crow & Co. officially opened Aug. 15 and the cafe opened on Sept. 1.
The store carries books — mostly trade paperbacks and hardcovers and a few mass markets — along with journals and bookmarks.
The bookstore also features works by local authors and other self-published works. Sara expects 10 to 20% of the store to be used books in like-new condition.
Opening a new business is never easy, especially during a pandemic. Sara and Larry relied heavily on their support system to open their doors.
“The biggest initial challenge was the opening itself. … We planned to open only a couple months after acquiring the space, which meant that in spite of having the basics all set down, we then had to project manage the heck out of the situation and execute everything,” said Sara.
They had a long list and wide range of tasks including building bookshelves, acquiring and placing about $35,000 worth of books, buying furniture and establishing consignment relationships, all within a few short months.
“We were essentially opening a small coffee shop, an art and jewelry consignment gallery and a bookstore at the same time,” she said.
Sara’s parents both lent a hand; her father traveling from Minnesota to help build bookshelves and her mother researching best practices from home. Community members helped them obtain furniture and other supplies and their friends at Metropolitan Coffee helped organize the cafe portion of the bookstore. Not to mention all of their friends that stopped by to help paint, clean, build and move furniture.
“It was a gargantuan effort that we definitely couldn’t have pulled off alone,” she said.
Now that they have had time to settle into a bit of a routine, Sara is challenged with figuring out how to balance both the bookstore and cafe and the unique needs of each area.
“People come through saying that they would like to see certain things from the shop and ultimately, Larry and I have to make decisions regarding what will best serve our desires for the shop’s growth and our vision of the shop’s place in the community at large. With so many balls in the air, it could be easy to get lost in one or another aspect of the shop and neglect the other parts.”
Sara works full time in the store while Larry juggles three jobs outside of the store. He obtained a law degree from Washburn University following his Newman graduation. Shortly after law school, Larry was hired at Jacam as a staff attorney. He was quickly promoted to general counsel, becoming one of the youngest general counsels in the country at the time.
Fellow Newman graduate Cat Connolly has been a major help throughout the entire process. She works as the store manager and does the “lion’s share” of the baking for the cafe, according to Sara.
Sara and Larry met Connolly at Newman as she was beginning her college journey and they were preparing to graduate. The two stayed active in the Newman English Department after graduation and crossed paths with her many times.
Connolly had to quickly relocate from Kansas City recently and the Crows offered her a place to stay. Once COVID-19 hit, her short stay turned into a long-term residency. The couple has been thankful to have Connolly around to help them prepare for their business adventure.
Connolly’s experience in coffee shops has been vital in the gradual growth of their cafe. They currently serve drip coffee, teas, sodas and pastries but hope to expand to lunch options in the coming months.
All three are thankful for their Newman education and have found that their liberal arts background has aided them in their success.
“One really important aspect of any humanities degree, whether it be in English, history or philosophy, is the capacity to not just ‘get the right answer’ to a particular question but to have the capacity to think critically in any given situation. We’re taught to consider the possibility of many solutions to a problem and, as with any good story, we’re encouraged to think outside the box to attack problems from an angle that might not be evident on the surface,” said Sara.
“Being able to analyze needs in real-time, communicate with individuals and groups effectively and balance seemingly insane priorities all happening at once are all critical skills that Larry and I both learned as humanities majors at Newman.”
While students at Newman, they were active in the English Department and Larry took on roles as the editor of the Vantage, co-president of Lambda Iota Tau, was a member of the history fraternity, editor of the Sheridan Edwards Review and more.
Sara was president of Lambda Iota Tau and co-editor-in chief of the Sheridan Edwards Review as well as a student assistant for the Humanities Department.
The duo is proud of the store they’ve created and look forward to the future of hosting book and discussion groups once people are able to gather again.
Crow & Co. is located on 2 S. Main St. in Hutchinson. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.