Lemuria Books in Jackson, Miss., launched its new bricks-and-mortar annex called LemuriaBooks.com with a three-day grand opening that began on April 1. The 1,400-sq.-ft. new store is located across a parking lot from Lemuria's 5,000-sq.-ft main store.

The new annex adds ".com" to its name because all the inventory in the store is listed on the store's Web site. The main store is a general bookstore that devotes two rooms to collectible books (the "First Editions Room" containing books under $150 and the "Fine First Editions Room" containing books priced $150 and over). When those rooms began to overflow and became increasingly difficult for customers to browse, the store began listing the collectible books on its Web site. Owner John Evans then decided that the collectible books needed more space, so he moved the majority of them to the new annex.

Now, customers have room to browse most of the store's collectible inventory (the annex carries only collectible books, first editions and signed first editions; and the main store still has enough collectible books to fill the previously overstuffed two rooms). Evans can also use the annex as a venue for store events.

The opening night's featured attractions were readings by three Jackson literary lions—Jill Connor Browne, from her forthcoming The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men (Three Rivers, Oct.); Jo Anne Prichard-Morris, from Greater Jackson, Welcome Home (Image Publishing); and Ellen Douglas, from this fall's Witnessing (Univ. Press of Mississippi). Over the next two afternoons, there were presentations by pop-up guru Robert Sebuda (Alice in Wonderland, S&S) and blues photographer Dick Waterman (Between Night and Day, Thunder's Mouth); a fashion show put together by a swanky boutique; and live music by a popular local band.

Since the annex has a beer license, Evans offered $1 cans of the cold beverage to attendees who signed up for the Web site's weekly e-mail updates and additional announcements. "The idea was to make our grand opening attractive to a wide cross-section from the metropolitan Jackson area with a diverse lineup of features—readings Thursday evening; the children's event on Friday; and photography, the style show and live music Saturday. Our goal is to grow the e-mail list from 5,000, where it stands now, to 10,000 to 12,000, hopefully within a few years," Evans said.

The annex store is part of Evans's "value-added" strategy for survival in Jackson's increasingly competitive bookselling climate. The 29-year-old Lemuria is one of the few independents former Mississippi state legislator John Grisham still visits for signings when he has a new book. But Evans has watched his customer base erode over the past 10 years, lost to a nearby Barnes & Noble, a Books-a-Million and a Borders across the interstate from his store.

"The only way I can compete and retain customer loyalty without discounting is by keeping the store as lively and current as we can and by providing a value-added product that differentiates us from the local competition," Evans told PW. "We do this with a full events calendar throughout the year—including annual adopt-a-dog events and big Blue Moon gatherings [of contributors to MacAdam/Cage's Stories from the Blue Moon Café anthologies of Southern writers], our First Editions Club, a Web site that we've expanded considerably since it began three and a half years ago, and now our [new] store, which adds a physical dimension to our virtual reality."

He estimates that Web sales now account for 5%—10% of the store's annual sales. The new annex's purpose is to increase that. Staffed by Evans's "Web team"—David Carner and Robert Keane—the annex allows Web shoppers the opportunity to come to the physical location and browse through all the books listed on the store's Web site. "For the most part, our Web orders come from Jackson or nearby," Evans noted. It also makes finding Web orders much easier for Carner and Keane now that they're shelved in an orderly manner rather than piled in stacks on the floor, as they were in the main store. "Currently, we only list collectible titles found in the annex on our site," Keane told PW. "Once we get all our collectibles online, we may start putting our regular books on, too."

The clincher for the decision to move events and Web business out of the main store came with the closing of the bar located above Lemuria where the bookstore held its Wednesday "Literary Brews" readings. So Evans bought and retrofitted a 40-year-old building located across the parking lot, and began moving in and organizing inventory for LemuriaBooks.com. Six weeks later, he hosted its grand opening. The Sweet Potato Queens, who claim Evans "is the only bookseller they ever really loved," were delighted.