Gramercy Books celebrates five years

Before her independent Bexley bookstore's fifth anniversary, Linda Kass talks about taking the shop from vision to reality and navigating a lingering pandemic

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Gramercy Books in Bexley

Throughout her life, Linda Kass has immersed herself in houses of books. As a child, she spent countless hours at the Bexley Public Library. Later, when traveling with her husband, Kass would make a point to not only visit a city’s museums, but also its independent bookstores.

So, while Kass started from scratch when she opened Gramercy Books on Bexley's Main Street five years ago, she also had a lifetime of book experiences from which to draw. She knew how she wanted the 2,500-square-foot space to feel. The dark woods, the whimsical children’s section — they’re all part of an intentional design meant to foster a book-loving community.

“The original vision is not that far from what we are,” Kass said last week, seated in the covered outdoor patio of Kittie’s Cakes, a bakery and coffee shop that shares space with Gramercy. Kass envisioned the bookstore as “a place for inspiration, for conversation, for people to be welcomed, for there to be a really knowledgeable staff and to have the feeling when you came in that it was urban and warm and sophisticated.” 

On Sunday, Dec. 12, Gramercy will celebrate its fifth anniversary. To commemorate the milestone, the shop is offering a 20 percent discount on gift cards through Dec. 12, along with a free tote bag for customers spending $100 or more at the store.  

Kass describes the Gramercy experience as her “third chapter,” which was preceded by careers in magazine journalism and corporate communications. (Kass is an author, as well; her most recent novel, A Ritchie Boy, came out last year.) Before opening Gramercy, Kass, who co-owns the store with business partner John Gaylord, also led a Bexley community book read for nine years.

More:Writer Linda Kass' Fictional Family

“I wanted this to be an author-event-driven [bookstore], where people could actually meet authors,” said Kass, who has stayed true to her goal. Pre-COVID, Gramercy hosted at least one author event per week, and sometimes as many as eight in a month. To pull off theater-style seating for 65 people in a relatively small space, Kass put Gramercy’s bookshelves on rollers — a trick she learned while visiting a tiny bookstore in Florida. For larger author events, Gramercy links up with the Bexley Library, Bexley High School, Drexel Theatre, King Arts Complex and other community partners.

Gramercy Books hosts an event with author Gregory Boyle.

The pandemic has complicated those events, of course. But it also created opportunities. “[Publishers] are realizing the virtues of virtual events. They don't have the expense of sending authors to cities, paying for their flights, paying for their accommodations,” Kass said, speaking the day after Gramercy joined with other bookstores to virtually host author Brené Brown. 

Columbus isn’t always seen as a big enough market to host wildly popular authors like Brown, but virtual events allow Gramercy to partner with independent stores in other states, which has enabled Gramercy to hold author events with Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See), Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) and others. 

Since August, Gramercy has done a combination of virtual, in-store and hybrid events. Beginning in October, the store began requiring proof of vaccination along with masks for in-store readings. “We felt that it wasn't enough to just highly encourage people to [be vaccinated] in order to attend in-store. ... So we started requiring proof of vaccination to attend an event because we really couldn't do six feet distancing,” said Kass, noting that she initially apologized to guests for the inconvenience, but that customers have actually appreciated the safety measure. “Everyone's been like, ‘No problem. Thank you. This is allowing us to do this. We're coming here because we feel fine doing this now.’” 

While the initial COVID shutdowns were a challenge (“March 2020 was quite a jolt,” she said), Kass never doubted whether the shop would make it through. Gramercy is small and nimble enough to pivot quickly, she said, and her staff has stuck around, as have many loyal customers. Initially, the store closed completely for about a week, then switched to curbside pickup (and free shipping) for months. “By April, we were in operation and doing things differently,” Kass said. 

Once the shop reopened, Kass realized Gramercy’s previous operating hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. wouldn’t work in the COVID era, so she shifted to a 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule (during the holidays, the store will stay open until 8 p.m. daily except Sunday). The move made Kass realize the former 9 p.m. closing time never made much sense in the first place for Bexley residents, who rarely shop late into the evening.

COVID led to other long-term changes, too. “We were able to set up a lot of systems that we didn't have, and that's been really useful,” she said. “There are multiple ways to deliver an author to the audience, and there are multiple ways that people can get their books. And we now have ongoing, better-organized ways to communicate to our customers.” 

Looking ahead, Kass said she feels prepared for whatever the pandemic and the book publishing industry throws at her next, and she’ll keep looking for ways to uphold and expand that original vision. “What else can we do that reaches the community, that helps people to discover and be inspired and connect with each other over books?” she said. “We're going to continue what we're doing and just do it better and better.”

The front window of Gramercy Books