Viewpoint Books crowdfund seeks second downtown storefront

Ames Mercantile owner Katelyn Gosnell Richey, left, and Viewpoint Books owner Beth Stroh share a hug on Washington Street in downtown Columbus. Richey and Stroh are united in Viewpoint’s plans to open a second downtown storefront where Ames Mercantile recently closed.

Photo provided

Call it a labor of love that requires a HUG.

Owners of a longtime downtown Columbus bookstore and recently closed gift shop are asking their customers and supporters to help raise money to expand the bookstore into a the former gift shop’s storefront just down the street.

Viewpoint Books, 548 Washington St., announced a crowdfunding campaign called HUG — Help Us Grow — that would fund an expansion into the former Ames Mercantile shop across the street at 425 Washington St.

Viewpoint has been in its current location at the corner of Sixth and Washington streets since August 2007, moving there when the former Commons Mall was closing. But the bookstore is cramped for space and owner Beth Stroh believes a second nearby storefront makes sense.

“When Beth approached me with an idea for expansion for Viewpoint and doing it in my space, nothing else made sense to me,” Ames Mercantile owner Katelyn Gosnell Richey wrote in a Facebook post.

“… I don’t feel done with my building. I breathed life into it and I put my love in it. … I was writing emails to the bank about moving the process forward in the same week I just gave birth. I worked so hard to get the building and I’ve worked so hard at trying to keep a business going in a struggling economy. I’ve put my heart and soul into Ames. I tried to (create) a space for people who didn’t feel like they had another space in Columbus.”

On Leap Day this year, Feb. 29, Viewpoint asked its customers and supporters on its Facebook and Instagram pages “to help us take a big leap so we can expand the work that brings such joy to so many.”

Stroh, who has owned Viewpoint since acquiring it from original owners Susan and Terry Whittaker in 2016, directs the second-oldest independent bookstore in Indiana.

“We know that we will have to invest at least $35,000 to get the space ready before we can have the first sale” in the former Ames Mercantile space, Stroh said Monday. As of then, a little more than $11,000 had been raised. Stroh said Viewpoint needs to be able to determine by mid-March whether it can make a lease commitment to Richey.

If successful, Stroh said Viewpoint planned to have at least a soft opening of its new location in the former Ames Mercantile site on Independent Bookstore Day, Saturday, April 27.

Stroh said funds pledged by donors would be used to secure the space and equip it with bookshelves, displays and IT systems, among other things. A letter sent to supporters noted that the store reinvests all revenue after expenses into programs. In recent years, those programs have expanded to include book fairs at local elementary schools, a summer scavenger hunt in conjunction with downtown businesses, a wintertime “Reindeer Romp” event for kids and more.

“We feel like we try to be a good neighbor and we try to attract people not just to Viewpoint Books, but to bring them downtown to support other local businesses,” Stroh said.

“We need more space to keep building a stronger, more vibrant community. Our book groups, mobile book fairs, collaborative events like Silent Book Club, curated book collections, and gift selections need room to grow. As they do, we will better serve more neighbors and visitors in our community,” the store says in its HUG campaign.

“Fifty-year-old small businesses in our community are rare,” Stroh said. “The most important message I hope to communicate is that we simply want to do more to build community around books and … to keep growing.

“We are so grateful to be a part of this community and have so many loyal supporters,” Stroh said. “So if this doesn’t work, we will continue to be as grateful and still strive to do all the things we’re doing already. … We couldn’t even consider this if it were not for all the support we’ve gotten and continue to get each and every day.”

Richey said she believes in Stroh and all that she and Viewpoint do for the community, and she encouraged her former store’s customers to support the HUG campaign.

“Having two women come together who believe in putting love first would surely be a really magical thing for downtown and all of Columbus,” she wrote on Facebook.

In an Instagram video posted Sunday, Stroh walked through some of the expansion plans, noting a lack of space in its current location for popular fiction and fantasy genres. She notes the current location has a basement book cellar and event space, but its access is limited because customers have to use stairs.

“Downtown has been my neighborhood for a long, long time,” Stroh says in the video, noting she also lives downtown. “I love the neighborhood, I love the feel that we get downtown, and Viewpoint’s been here 50 years. So we want to continue that.”

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. Viewpoint has been in its current location at the corner of Sixth and Washington streets since August 2007, and not as earlier reported.