“When you walk in the door, it feels like you are walking into your home,” said Mitzi’s Books retail manager Mary Ackland, speaking of the independent bookstore in Rapid City, S.Dak., where she has worked for more than a decade. “I honestly still look at it and say to myself, ‘I can’t believe I work here.’ I know I am biased, but it really is a beautiful little bookstore.”

While Mitzi’s may be similar to indies across the country in terms of ambiance, it must contend with certain challenges due to being separated by hundreds of miles from any major metropolitan area. Though Rapid City has about 80,000 residents, it is far off the beaten path for author tours, which means that there are few in-store events, and those it hosts feature local writers.

One exception occurred in 2017, when John Green made an unscheduled stop at Mitzi’s and signed books while on tour for Turtles All the Way Down. Ackland laughs at the memory, saying, “It was pretty awesome,” but booksellers could not publicize his appearance because “we would have been inundated” and “we don’t have a lot of room for events.”

The store’s location, approximately 400 miles from Denver, also prevents Mitzi’s booksellers from attending the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association’s annual fall conference held in the Mile High City, nor does it go to MPIBA’s spring forums. Publishers’ field reps do not visit the store, either, resulting in Mitzi’s two buyers relying heavily on phone reps for information and to instill a sense of community with the rest of the industry.

“We have really good reps,” said Ackland, who serves as the children’s book buyer. “Penguin Random House, Simon, HarperCollins, all of the major publishers—any information we need, we go to them. Most of them I have regular calls with, so I feel as if I get to know them.”

Filling a two-story building in the historic heart of downtown Rapid City, Mitzi’s opened around Thanksgiving weekend in 2011 as part of a small development of shops and restaurants surrounding a plaza that previously had been a parking lot. The development was intended to rejuvenate the downtown area, which had lost foot traffic to shopping malls on the city’s periphery.

The development, Main Street Square, originally was not going to include a bookstore, but when Borders Group announced in summer 2011 that it was shutting down its Rapid City outlet that fall, developer Ray Hillenbrand added a 2,100-square-foot bookstore to the mix. Four Borders employees who were being laid off—including Ackland—were hired to staff it, and those four booksellers still work at Mitzi’s.

The bookstore was named for Hillenbrand’s sister, Mitzi Lally, who had urged Hillenbrand to open the store so that the city would continue to have a full-service, general bookstore—though Books-a-Million moved into the former Borders space inside a shopping mall in late fall 2011, at approximately the same time Mitzi’s opened its doors.

Hillenbrand died in 2019; his daughter, Margaret Hillenbrand, a rancher who, Ackland said, “is pretty hands-off,” now owns Mitzi’s.

Eleven years after the rejuvenation effort began, Ackland reports that Main Street Square is a success, as there has “definitely been a revival,” with the development attracting both locals and the tourists visiting Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills. The pandemic further boosted store revenues, with sales up 40% in 2021 over 2019.

“It’s amazing,” Ackland said. “We’ve had such great support from the community, it’s actually been the best couple of years we’ve ever had. We’ve always had really good local loyalty, and that’s continued throughout this. I thought sales were going to drop off from last year, but we had a really strong January. What really bumped us is our website; there’s more online ordering,” as tourists who discovered Mitzi’s during their travels continue to order books online. While the store’s bestsellers reflect national trends, regional titles like In God’s Country by Johnny Sundby, Black Hills Yesterday and Today by Paul Horsted, Corn Exchange Cookbook by MJ Adams, More Than Presidents by Nancy Todd Engler, and The Question Is ‘Why’: Stanford M. Adelstein, a Jewish Life in South Dakota by Eric Zimmer have also been among the store’s top sellers.

Brenda Beal, Mitzi’s general manager, said, “More and more locals are finding us. It took a while, because people are used to driving out to the mall—but with Covid hitting, people really did seek out smaller venues for safety’s sake. It just helped build up our base. People want to get out of the house, and they want to handle books. Covid sucks and all that, but it did not hurt us.”