“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.
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