A page has been turned in the history of 126 West Main Street in Perham.
The commercial building at that address, which for years was home to Bev's Book Nook, is now open for its next chapter as The Willow Bookstore.
Continuing the building's tradition as a space for reading, contemplating and human connection, The Willow opened this past Saturday, Nov. 24, under the ownership of Perham native Megan Wells.
So far, Wells says, the feedback on her new store has been "nothing but positive," with customers commenting on the interior's "refreshing" and "different" look. Business has been solidly steady these first few days.
The Willow sells new books of all subjects and for all ages. The shelves are lined with best-selling new releases like J.K. Rowling's latest screenplay, "The Crimes of Grindelwald," along with a few classics like "Catch-22." There are also gift items for fans of the written word, such as book-themed bags, T-shirts, socks and mugs. A substantial children's section includes not only books but also some clothing and Melissa and Doug brand toys.
By Wells' own hand, the inside of the building has undergone a dramatic transformation. It's bright and open, sleek and clean, with comfortable seating areas where people are encouraged to read, talk and relax. On one wall is a floor-to-ceiling art installation of a willow tree, the store's namesake. The tree was created by Cindee Lundin, a Perham grad and artist known for her work on the mural in Turtle Park.
Wells has an associate's degree in architectural drafting and designed the remodel herself. She, along with some of her family members, also did all the physical work. Her parents, Laurie and Duane Miller, "helped with completely gutting this thing," Wells says of the store, with additional aide from her siblings and other extended family members.
Wells, a Perham resident and 2007 Perham High School graduate, took ownership of the building following the retirement of Bev Hockett, the 30-year owner of Bev's Book Nook. Bev's closed Sept. 30, and Wells got right to work, visiting the store that very night to start tearing out the carpet.
That was just the start of what turned into weeks of pulling and pushing, nailing and screwing, scrubbing and sanding, plus painting and more - all to whip the building into shape and turn it into what it is now, an inviting and engaging place "where the pressure is off to be anybody but yourself," according to the store's website.
There are still a few things that need some finishing - a small coffee area in the back, and the bathroom isn't quite done - but the nuts and bolts of the store were complete in time to open for the Thanksgiving weekend shopping rush.
After the holidays, Wells plans to start hosting regular events at The Willow, such as book club meetings for kids and adults, story times, author appearances and TED Talk discussions.
"I want a place where people can connect on a level deeper than, 'How's the weather?,'" she says. "A space for like-minded people to come and gather."
Business ownership is new to Wells, and she says it's been an adventure. Her husband, Jeff, owns his own trucking company, J & M Hauling, so she's "seen a little bit of the back end of owning a business," but this is her first venture into it herself.
A mother of four kids between the ages of 10 and 3, Wells has spent the past seven years completing a degree in teaching while being a stay-at-home mom. When she tried substitute teaching and found it didn't "click" with her, she says, she started brainstorming a potential new career plan - one inspired by her kids' love of reading.
She got the idea to open up a bookstore, and after that, "doors kept flying open," she explains. "And it's just been like, 'Yep! This is what I should be doing.'"
Wells found an organization that helps entrepreneurs open bookstores, and she attended one of their four-day training programs in Florida last February. That experience heightened her confidence in her business decision and abilities. When she found out Bev's Book Nook would be closing, she inquired about the building, and the pieces just fell into place from there.
"Almost every single thing with it has been serendipitous," she says.
She chose the store's name because she's always liked the name Willow. Her husband wasn't too keen on it as a baby name, she laughs, "but this (store) is kind of my fifth baby, and I got to name it... And willow trees are so awesome and beautiful. I just love willow trees."
For now, Wells is the primary worker at the store, with occasional fill-in help from her mom and sister. In the future, she'd like to have more hired help around. The store will also carry specialty coffees and prepackaged snacks in the future.
"I'm not out to compete with other (coffee) businesses in town," Wells says. "But I will offer coffee here so that it's available to customers who want to take their time. I encourage people to come in, slow down and peruse."
The Willow Bookstore is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit thewillowbookstore.com. The store also has an active Facebook page.