“Books are meant to be loved.” This is the guiding philosophy, as displayed in a bright neon sign inside the Downtown Ames, independent bookstore, Dog-Eared Books.
Since opening in March of 2021, Dog-Eared Books has become the go-to store for book lovers thanks to the “enthusiastic and generous support of our community,” said co-owner Amanda Lepper.
Lepper and co-owner Ellyn Grimm graduated from Ames High together in 2001. Grimm studied English literature and taught secondary English after graduating from Iowa State University. Lepper earned a Master of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and worked at a small-town paper in Kansas before moving back to Ames. The two reconnected years after graduating high school when their kids were in the same preschool class.
Conversations in the pick-up line evolved over time to include the topics of the day, politics, and their love of books. “I would talk about my dream of someday opening a children's bookstore in Ames,” recalls Lepper who also saw it as “a total pipe dream.” But whenever the topic came up, Grimm would always say, "if you do it, I'll do it with you!"
In April 2019, the two eventual co-owners investigated the possibility of opening the store together. “We agreed to begin a research process to determine if we thought the town could support an ‘indie’ bookstore,” said Lepper. That year of research included talking with their mentor bookstore in Columbia, Missouri, and creating a long list of questions. They attended the American Bookseller Association's Winter Institute, an industry wide educational conference for independent booksellers, that included a one-day bootcamp focused on opening a new store. According to the seminar leaders, Ames proved to be an ideal environment for an indie bookstore with its high education level, strong support of a local library, and a community with a strong local shopping district.
The two researched and planned through the pandemic. Shelving, graphic design and web needs, point of sale systems, and books – “lots and lots of research on books and publishers,” said Grimm. Their dog-eared dream opened in the spring of 2021.
“One of the things that we did not fully anticipate was the community and friendships that we developed as a result of the store,” said Lepper. “The people who have made Dog-Eared Books their place is really amazing. They see it as part of their world.”
Built on a love of books, Lepper and Grimm are embracing the book community that they are at the center of, but their programming goes beyond traditional book clubs, which now total 8. “Cozy puzzle night” includes drinks and pajamas where ten teams rush to complete a 1,000-piece puzzle. Monthly trivia nights are always full. And poetry slams are taking off in popularity. Dog-Eared Books has collaborated with local writing groups, including the Ames Writer’s Collective, to provide an outlet for their work. “People are grateful for a place to have community,” said Lepper.
When you walk into Dog-Eared Books, you immediately recognize the value that the owners place on brand and aesthetics. That brand extends to their book curation process as well. “We buy based on our own taste, but also what our community wants,” said Lepper.
The Ames community has a big National Public Radio following and wants to read about current events, nature, and history. Social media trends such as BookTok also play a role in their curation process. BookTok is part of a TikTok subculture where “influencers” share short-form videos about their favorite book. If a book is trending on TikTok, it is likely that you can find it at Dog-Eared Books. “We immediately order the book because it drives sales,” said Grimm.
At any given time, the store has over 13,000 books with 9,000 unique titles. What you won’t find are books based on hateful topics. Rather, the Dog-Eared owners have placed an emphasis on finding titles that promote inclusivity and representation. This approach has served them well, not only in building community, but in employing staff to operate the store. They currently employ 18 staff, mostly part-time employees, who all love books. On the off occasion when they do have an opening, they are often flooded with applicants.
Lepper and Grimm are always looking for ways to expand their business, both financially, and as a way to build community. New this year, the store is offering a monthly book subscription, with options for either a new release adult fiction selection or a children’s picture book selection, with a middle grade chapter book offering to be added this summer. They are also partnering with area school districts to supply classroom and library literature and will be hosting a book fair at Ames Middle School this spring.
Next time you stop in, be sure to say hello to Lovie, the Dog-Eared Books resident golden retriever.
Dog-Eared Books is located at 203 Main Street.
Behind the Name:
“A dog-eared book is a loved book,” say the owners of the Downtown Ames bookstore. The name draws inspiration from its two owners, Amanda Lepper and Ellyn Grimm, and is a combination of habit and passion. Ellyn has a habit of dog-earing her books, otherwise known as folding the page corners to mark her spot. Amanda has a passion in dog training. Together, Dog-Eared Books is formed on their love of books.
Listening to an inner career calling can be uncertain and difficult, but the feeling can also be undeniable. For Robert and Alesia Knight, their steadfast commitment to faith steered them on their entrepreneurial and faith-based journey over a decade ago.
The couple began In God’s Hands (IGH) Cleaning, LLC, in January 2011. The company provides commercial janitorial services, window cleaning, carpet cleaning, floor care, and currently employs 13 individuals.
Prior to starting IGH, both Robert and Alesia were employed at Iowa State University, living comfortably with a salary, health insurance, and retirement. But it was not enough for them. They knew that their calling was to minister to people directly. Robert stepped away from his job at the University in July 2010 without a clear career direction, but they had faith that one would be presented to them.
In November 2010, a business owner asked Robert to buy a pickup truck and a snow blade. After speaking with Alesia, he agreed and In God’s Hands Outdoor Services was born. The company transitioned into commercial cleaning after one winter and they have been a staple in Ames since that time.
As the name represents, the Knights are clear about their faith and their commitment to their employees and clients. A pastor at his core, Robert begins each shift meeting with prayer and team building before they disperse to the job sites.
“We love the Ames community!” said Robert. “We raised two kids here who both have obtained degrees from Iowa State University. The best thing about the Ames community is the people, and the opportunity to serve.”
As much as ministry is at the core of their business, so is their desire to grow their business. The Knights were recently accepted to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program. Through the program, participants gain practical skills in topics such as negotiation, marketing, and employee management that can immediately be put into action. In addition, they receive the tools and professional support to develop a strategic and customized growth plan that will take their business to the next level.
“The opportunity to be a part of 10,000 Goldman Sachs was recommended through the Ames Chamber of Commerce. We completed the application and interview process and were accepted as participants,” said Robert. “Alesia and I are praying that our experience with 10,000 Goldman Sachs will allow our business to move to another level of service to care for people, our customers, and our team.”
Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program
In partnership with each of Iowa’s 15 community colleges, including Des Moines Area Community College, the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program provides business owners the tools to develop a customized business plan for growth with topics covering financial statements negotiation, marketing, employee management, and more. The 12-week curriculum is delivered in person and online – all at no cost to Iowa business owners.
Ames Seed Cap Invests in Pyrone Systems, Inc.
On November 9th, 2022, the Ames Seed Capital Board of Managers approved a $100,000 investment for a new business named Pyrone Systems, Inc, which is developing a bio-pesticide that uses pogostone as the key ingredient.
Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects have become resistant to pesticides and insecticides currently on the shelves. Pyrone Systems is positioned to offer a unique solution to this problem by developing a new way to produce pogostone, which is a naturally occurring molecule produced by the patchouli plant.
For centuries, the patchouli plant leaves have been known to have a repellent property and were commonly used when shipping textiles from Southeast Asia to Europe. The patchouli plant, however, produces pogostone in such low quantities that an area eight times the size of Texas would be required to produce the amount of insecticides used in the U.S.
Pyrone Systems has solved this problem through the development of Pyrone-1, which they make using genetically modified yeast. They take the yeast and mix it with the byproducts from making vegetable oil. The initial lab results have shown an increase in Pyrone-1 production, which is exciting for Pyrone Systems as they approach commercialization. Preliminary data suggests that pogostone is non-toxic to humans, birds, bees, and the environment.
Pyrone Systems was founded in October 2021. Dr. Brent Shanks, a co-founder of Pyrone Systems, currently serves as Chief Technical Officer. He is also a Distinguished Professor and the Director of the Iowa State University Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) at Iowa State University. He sees the potential of Pyrone-1 going beyond insect control.
“What takes Pyrone-1 to the next level is our proprietary chemistry and know-how that was originally developed in CBiRC,” said Shanks. He noted that their technology has unlocked potential in seven new markets, including a $7 billion corrosion inhibitor market that is facing regulatory pressure and the $120 billion lubricant market that wants to decarbonize. “We’re moving fast as the Pyrone Systems team has extensive expertise in developing biology and chemistry, scaling up operations, navigating regulatory requirements and creating key sales and marketing collaborations.”
The rest of the Pyrone Systems leadership team includes Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Alex Hutagalung, Chief Business Officer, Steve Bessette, and Chief Financial Officer, Brian Conn. The company is planning to first produce pesticides for commercial and residential uses, and then believes it can produce, cost efficiently, enough to serve agricultural markets.
Mike Upah, Director of Ames Seed Capital (ASC) for the Ames Chamber of Commerce, said that the ASC executive committee saw the potential in what Pyrone Systems was doing. “When positive referrals come from multiple, respected sources, it accelerates interest and helps prioritize one project over others.” He noted that it is a great time to invest in bio-based products and that the company founders have an understanding of the industry with a sound commercialization strategy.
Ames Seed Capital
Founded in 1987, Ames Seed Capital is a venture fund based in Ames, Iowa, and operated by the Ames Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission. The firm invests a pool of funds committed by private sources (entities and individuals) for the purpose of providing equity-based financing for business start-ups and/or expansions. These investments primarily focus on companies in the biotechnology, software, energy, and financial service sectors located in Central Iowa, but they are not limited to these parameters.
The Fund is an Iowa company created to implement a program of the Ames Economic Development Commission (AEDC) and initially established by the AEDC to fund start-up companies developed at Iowa State University with commercial potential. Ames Seed Capital is managed by an elected volunteer Board of Managers.
To date, Ames Seed Capital has raised 7 funds with the first taking place in 1997 with $451,000. Fund 3 was $449,5000 and had 55 investors who invested in five companies. This created a high rate of return and each investor received nearly $5 back for every one dollar invested.
Fund 4 invested in 13 companies, Fund 6 totaled $1.7 million and included 63 investors, and Fund 7 saw the firms largest investment total of $4.25 million with 101 investors.
Currently, the fund has invested a total of $4.9 million in 29 businesses and has an additional $3.4 million in Fund 7 to invest. The current portfolio includes 14 companies.
Here are a few notable investments from Ames Seed Capital:
304 Main St.
Ames, Iowa 50010
Phone: (515) 232-2310
About the Ames Chamber
Centrally and conveniently located in the heart of the Midwest and Iowa, Ames is known for its healthy, stable economy, flourishing cultural environment, and the world-renowned Iowa State University.
With over 700 members, the Ames Chamber of Commerce strives to make Ames a better place to live, work, and do business by strengthening the economic vitality and the quality of life in the Ames community.