In the heart of the East Hills neighborhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan sits a wonderful jewel of a bookshop, Books & Mortar, “Grand Rapids’ proudly progressive, consciously curated, and fiercely independent neighborhood bookstore.” Owned by partners Jonathan Shotwell and Christopher Roe, Books and Mortar is exactly the kind of bookshop I like to step into: wood floors, brick walls, wood shelves, eclectic tables, dynamic displays, a few rainbow accents – everything arranged with care that allows the space to flow. And the book covers pop! Which is how it should be – books taking center stage, bewitching me to explore.
Shotwell and Roe don’t just let the books speak for themselves, however. The shelves are dotted with informative and fun to read recommendation cards, and the guys are ready to talk books, as well. I chatted with Roe a bit about the store, the books, and how well the store has been received in the neighborhood.One thing that surprised them (and me), Roe said, was that the new releases don’t sell nearly as well as classics and old favorites. He and Shotwell opened the store in the fall of 2016 after relocating from Chicago. They had previously lived in Grand Rapids and decided it was the perfect place to open a bookstore. There is a growing progressive population in Grand Rapids (there are over a dozen higher education institutions in the metro area) and not many independent bookstores in the city to serve them.
Browsing the shelves, I could tell that the store’s collections are carefully cultivated. I was pleased to recognize several popular authors; George Saunders, Zadie Smith, Ann Patchett, Lisa See, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lori Deschene, Elizabeth Gilbert… The children’s section is full of wins, too, with Pete the Cat, The Day the Crayons Quit, She Persisted, Ada Twist Scientist, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, and so many more wonderful titles. There is also a fun collection of greeting cards, journals, calendars, candles, and other sideline items, making it a good place to pick up many different kinds of gifts. (I grabbed a few unique Michigan-themed postcards for an international postcard exchange that I participate in.)
Grand Rapids is lucky to have Books & Mortar, and if you find yourself in the GR area, be sure to stop by!
Books & Mortar Bookstore
955 Cherry St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506