By Makayla Steede
In a time where many bookstores are losing readers to online booksellers, Square Books continues to thrive in Oxford.
On Sept. 14, 1979, Richard and Lisa Howorth, owners of Square Books, opened the doors of their small, independent bookstore to the Oxford community.
Now, 40 years later, Square Books has grown from that small bookstore, occupying a single floor of a building into a family of four stores located on the Oxford Square: Square Books, Off Square Books, Square Books Jr. and, the newest member of the family, Rare Square Books.
Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce Pam Swain says that the store has done more than sell books; it has helped foster a sense of community identity.
“It draws people to this community,” Swain said. “It is probably one of the most photographed places in this community, and when people see a story about Oxford, it is surely part of our story. It helps boost the economy in many ways because it draws people here because it is such a part of the literary culture Oxford is so known for.”
Lyn Roberts, the general manager of all four bookstores, believes community members enjoy shopping at Square Books because it keeps money in the community.
“Independent businesses, whether they’re hardware stores, or bookstores, or local banks or anything like that, help keep money in this community, and that money recycles and recycles,” Roberts said.
The revenue the stores generate through book sales and property taxes goes back into the community and supports the schools and the infrastructure of the city.
Roberts also believes that the relationships between the employees and the readers make shopping at Square Books more appealing than buying books online.
“We don’t employ any robots or algorithms,” Roberts said. “No robots or algorithms need apply here. This is real people, and that’s kind of like the stuff of life.”
By hiring people who are interested in books and understand the customers, the staff can curate an atmosphere that the community will enjoy, and readers are offered suggestions based on their specific interests and preferences from people who know them, Roberts said.
While the main customer base for Square Books is local readers, readers from around the nation have become interested in the store after it was named one of the best indie bookstores by The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Publishers Weekly.
“Square Books is a well-known bookstore to booklovers all around the country,” Swain said. “People travel here just to experience the store and see the wonderful and diverse books they offer as well as a literary feel that most book stores can only dream of capturing.”
Along with drawing people to the community and bolstering the economy, Wayne Andrews, director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, thinks that Square Books has played an important role in building a community that supports the arts.
“A thriving independent bookstore creates a focal point in the community through their programs, from book signings, accepting local [art] works on consignment and hosting events from storytelling to the unique Thacker Mountain Radio,” Andrews said. “Having a business invest in the city helps to define the sense of community and inspires others to invest in community building.”
With the 40th anniversary behind them, the Square Books staff looks forward to many more years of celebrating books and fostering a literary culture within Oxford.