When New Bo Books opened in the historic New Bohemia neighborhood of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last weekend, it filled a 20-year void for a general independent bookstore. The store, which will operate much like a franchise, is a division of Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City but owned by former librarian Mary Ann Peters. “Despite the risk,” says Peters, alluding to the shakiness of the book business overall, “it’s worth it.”
The 800 sq. ft. bookstore is located on the ground floor of an historic Czech social hall that was largely destroyed in the Iowa floods of 2008. The building has been rebuilt with art galleries, classrooms, and a coffee shop; an open air farmers’ market will move in across the street later this summer. Even though New Bo can only hold small gatherings, it will have access to its neighbors’ spaces, including a stage for large-scale author talks.
For Peters, the “crafted relationship” with Jan Weissmiller and Jane Mead, owners of Prairie Lights in Iowa City, will enable her to focus on creative input. She will choose the books and design the store, but have access to Prairie Lights’ inventory and 34 years of independent bookselling experience. In addition, Prairie Lights will place New Bo’s orders with publishers. The two stores plan to link to each other’s Web sites and even double up on events, since authors coming to Iowa City fly in to Cedar Rapids.
“We feel like it’s a distilled Prairie Lights, taking the best of the best,” says Peters. Not that she plans to rely entirely on Prairie Lights. She hired part-time staff with expertise in poetry, science fiction and fantasy, history, and children’s and wants the store’s ambiance to reflect the Cedar Rapids community, rather than Iowa City, which is 20 miles away.