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Raven Book Store selected as Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year

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The Raven Book Store has been selected for the biggest award a bookstore in America can receive.

Publishers Weekly announced Tuesday that the downtown Lawrence store with a 35-year legacy is this year’s Bookstore of the Year.

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Danny Caine, majority owner of the Raven, said the store is joining an incredible lineage of award winners that include “a couple of our hero stores.”

The Raven has had a lot of success and recognition over the years, and Caine said the store is able to do what it does because of the support from the Lawrence community. He cited the Raven’s advocacy work, expanding the store’s sections, the move to a new location on Massachusetts Street last year, and the business’s transition to an employee ownership model, for example.

Danny Caine

“The security of knowing that we’ve got a constant base of support from our community really helps us and lets us do cool things,” he said, “and then we get recognized for the cool things, and it feels really good.”

Massive companies like Amazon have been devastating for independent bookstores everywhere — and that’s a topic with which Caine is quite familiar, as he wrote the book on it. But even in that environment, the Raven is thriving. Caine said “good bookselling and community-building” are among the reasons why.

“Their main thing is collecting data and exploding their profits for the people at the very top of the company,” Caine said. “That’s not what we’re about. We’re about being the bookstore that Lawrence, Kansas needs, and doing our part however we can with our business and our platform and our advocacy to help grow and enrich the Lawrence community.”

The bookstore supports the community, and the community supports the bookstore, he said — and for the Raven, that exchange began three and a half decades ago.

“That’s how you build a robust bookstore. Because the community is so important to you, and you’re so important to the community — that exchange is lasting power,” he said. “And that lets you weather whatever kind of storm there is, whether it’s Amazon, or Borders, or a pandemic.”

Adam Smith/Contributed Photo Seven employees of the Raven Book Store are purchasing 49% of the store, they announced in January. In front row, from left, are Nikita Imafidon, Mary Wahlmeier Bracciano, Jack Hawthorn, and Danny Caine. In the back row, left to right, are Kelly Barth, Hannah Reidell, Chris Luxem, and Sarah Young.

So the store can handle the ups and downs of being a small business. And it’s circular: because of the community’s support, the Raven can allow people to make careers of bookselling.

And the effect isn’t limited to Lawrence, as Publishers Weekly noted.

“Authors, booksellers, and publishing professionals have testified how, with creativity and panache, the Raven and (Kurtis Lowe of Book Travelers West, named sales rep of the year) supported authors and books during the pandemic—and that their actions, in fact, sustained the indie bookstore industry itself,” according to the Publishers Weekly article about the award.

Mary Wahlmeier Bracciano, an employee-owner of the Raven, said in a statement that in her experience, “growing up in Kansas means being made to feel insignificant, inferior, and ill-informed.”

“Being a part of The Raven has made me realize that Kansas is beautiful, Kansas is special, and, if people like us stick around, Kansas will be a better place,” she said. “This award is for everyone who’s ever worked at The Raven, for all of our customers, especially our regulars, many of whom are treasured friends, and for our wonderful cats, Dashiell and Ngaio.”

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Looking forward, Caine said he and his fellow booksellers want to keep going.

“It’s really great to be recognized for the work, but the work isn’t done,” he said. “We’re thinking about ways we can help with the fight for abortion access and reproductive justice in Kansas; we’re thinking about ways to support readers of all ages in Kansas; we’re worried about the movement for book-banning in this country right now.”

They want to “continue the amazing work that the Raven has been doing for 35 years, that bookselling, and figure out how we can help with these community needs as well,” Caine said.

Other finalists for the award included Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, New York; Mitchell’s Book Corner, Nantucket, Massachusetts; Two Birds Books, Santa Cruz, California; and Madison Books, Seattle.

Catch the Raven’s regular bestseller lists at this link.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-422-6363. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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