Blog post and photos by Haley Meek
On the corner of Washington and Sixth Streets in downtown Columbus, you’ll find Viewpoint Books, the perfect little bookshop. Talking with Viewpoint Books owner, Beth Stroh, I learned a lot about all her store has to offer. Here’s a look at a conversation I had with Beth about owning an independent bookstore in the downtown area.
What made you want to own a bookstore?
Viewpoint has been here since 1973 and the second-generation owners, Susan and Terry Whittaker, wanted to retire. We had been long time customers and we really value having an independent bookstore in our community.
I was working in Indianapolis looking for a way to be more engaged here in Columbus again, and we figured out we could put things together to buy the store. We approached the Whittakers and they were enthusiastic about it. Susan’s parents started the store and they were looking for people they thought would carry on the store’s rich traditions. We agree that it’s such an important element to the fabric of the community.
Describe what it’s like to be a downtown business owner.
I haven’t been a downtown business owner until a year ago when we bought the store. I have lived downtown since 1988, so I get to walk three blocks to work which is wonderful. We’ve always loved the feel, the vibe, the activity that happens downtown and we’re committed to promoting and sustaining it.
Over time I have served on a number of downtown committees and groups that look at not just the residential part of downtown but the whole of its parts and how they support each other. In fact very rarely did we talk about residential elements, but we certainly looked at what it takes to attract more people downtown. I have been blessed to be a part of some of that work. Now I get to be involved in a new way of continuing to keeping downtown vital and alive and active by owning a small business here.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
I really think my favorite thing is that we can be a resource, a place where people feel welcome and find things they are looking for, or sometimes, things they don’t realize they are looking for. We recently had someone come in who’s part of the interview project for immigrants. This is one of her places and she wanted her picture taken here. We had a young girl come in the other day and ask for a review card so she could leave her opinion of some of the books she really likes. That makes me really happy that people feel they can come in here and there will be things for them and even if they don’t buy anything, it is still a welcoming place.
What do you want people to know about your business?
I would like people to know we are here. We still find people who come in and say, “I’ve lived in Columbus for years, but I’ve never been in.”
We added vinyl and turntables last year, so knowing we have books – and more! – is important. We have a wealth of ideas for gifts, especially for children; we have toys and books and music and some really cool and unique gifts for all ages. A few weeks ago, a traveling musician drove 100 miles out of his way to get a book at our store. According to him, we were one of only a few places he could find it in the entire country!
We do almost half our business in special orders. So if people come in and what they are looking for is not in the store, we can order it and usually have it here the next business day if it’s in our warehouse. The customer does not have to pay for shipping. So knowing that they can come in and get almost any book and many other items they see, hear, or read about would be great for people to know.
Do you see a lot of visitors coming by?
We’ve seen a lot more visitors recently. I think we’ll see even more as Exhibit Columbus opens next month and continues through November and as some of the festivals and special events happen through the fall. We also think that enriching downtown with more business is important so people can have an experience here; it’s not just shop after shop that looks the same. They will find something that will represent the community and downtown and help them remember the time they spent with us.
What is one takeaway you want the community to know?
We welcome everyone and we’d love to see them at Viewpoint!