Like many cities across the country, Rapid City, South Dakota’s downtown had declined in recent years due to shopping malls sprouting up around the town’s periphery and siphoning away customers. Now, a local businessman is taking the lead in rejuvenating the downtown area by renovating a row of historical buildings that will house a mixture of 13 retail shops and restaurants -- including an independent bookstore. Mitzi’s Main Street Books is scheduled to open just before Thanksgiving. Its owner hopes it will fill the void left by the Rapid City Borders, which is scheduled to close in about two weeks.
Last year, Ray Hillenbrand, who owns Prairie Edge Trading Company and Galleries, and his now-deceased sister, Mitzi Hillenbrand Lally, purchased a block of buildings facing a new public plaza downtown that’s scheduled to open in October. The plaza, called Main Street Square, was developed with the intention of making downtown Rapid City more of a destination for both locals and tourists. In winter, it is a skating rink; in summer, it’s a lawn with space for performances, festivals, and farmers’ markets.
According to Dan Tribby, Prairie Edge’s property manager, Hillenbrand is committed to making the Main Street Square project a success. The original plan for the buildings he and Lally acquired was to bring in a few “family-oriented” specialty shops with “a hometown flavor,” to replace the porn shop, games store, and empty space housed there previously facing the square. When Borders Group announced in July, however, that the Rapid City store was on the list of 400 stores to be shuttered, it was “decided overnight” to include a bookstore in the mix, so that Rapid City would not lose its only full-service general-interest bookstore.
“It was the right thing to do,” Tribby insisted, recalling that Lally, for whom the store is named, who died August 12, was especially adamant that a bookstore be a part of the development.
“We’d make it a bookstore. We’d make it an independent bookstore. We’d make it a Rapid City bookstore,” Tribby said, “It’s a tribute to [Lally].”
It may not be Rapids City’s major bookseller for long, however. Late last month, a U.S. Bankruptcy Cout judge approved Alabama-based Books-A-Million’s proposal to buy 14 Borders store leases. One of those 14 stores is the Rapid City Borders’ 20,000-square-foot space.
Prairie Edge hired Paz & Associates, the bookstore consultants group headed by Donna Paz Kaufman, to work with them “every step of the way” to design and build out the bookstore on an accelerated schedule and to stock it in time for the late November opening, timed to coincide with the city’s annual holiday parade.
Mitzi’s Main Street Books contains 1,300 square feet on the main level, and another 800 square feet in the mezzanine. There will be about 15,000 titles in the store’s inventory. Paz & Associates has selected about 80% of the store’s initial inventory, and the other 20% are local titles selected by Prairie Edge buyers, who already are well-versed in ordering the regional and Native American titles already carried at Prairie Edge.
Paz & Associates will continue to guide Prairie Edge executives for the first year the new bookstore is in operation, and after that, Tribby says, “we’ll be doing it on our own.” Tribby and the store’s general manager, Brenda Beal, are going to attend Paz & Associates’ five-day bookselling school in Florida this month.
The store’s retail manager, Tarah Jennings, until recently was the manager of the local Borders store. Tribby expects that a few more Borders employees will be hired at Mitzi’s. There will be three full-time employees and “probably” two part-timers initially, with staff numbers to be “tweaked as time goes on.”