Burlington will keep its downtown bookstore after all.
Let me be the first to say, “Yay!”
Some might remember that back in December I wrote about the looming departure of Persnickety Books, a used bookstore on Davis Street. The closing, set for this winter, was a shame because the enterprise is a successful one. And, I argued, downtowns need this kind of business in order for the area to thrive. This is the post I wrote at the time. It highlights how owners Shawna and Herb Gentert would be moving back to Oregon because of a personal and health-related family matter. They would prefer to stay in Burlington and keep operating Persnickety, which has an astonishing amount of inventory. There are stacks upon stacks of books there at great prices.
I was pretty sad about it but held out hope that someone would swoop in and take advantage of not only an investment opportunity but a chance to make a difference in the growth and culture of downtown — a place that may be ready to finally turn a corner in terms of drawing more people there.
And that someone turned out to be Burlington Mayor Ian Baltutis and his wife Kristina.
During a meeting a couple of weeks ago of the Burlington Downtown Corporation’s promotions committee at Persnickety Books, Ian let our little group know of his plans, but added that he intended to make an announcement sometime soon. He wanted time to line up someone to manage the store — that turned out to be Darren Miles, well known locally as a member of the band Love & Valor — and find help in dealing with the thousands of titles housed there and in the Gentert’s garage. Turns out he found a novel way to do it that will make an impact on the community in other less visible ways..
That announcement came via email today (Friday, Feb. 15). It was great news and continues a recent run of good downtown news, including word on Thursday that the Downtown Corporation was approved for a $10,000 grant for a mural project (more about that in another post). Also, the long-awaited Burlington Beer Works and restaurant will be opening very soon. I’m still hoping to get with organizers and managers to report more there and got a great update yesterday I’ll share later. Shawna Gentert told me in December that she thought Burlington’s downtown was right on the cusp of success and she was hoping to find a buyer and not close the store to keep the momentum going.
Fortunately she did. Make no mistake, keeping a bookstore in downtown is a major step as well. And an investment by the mayor in downtown is also significant. It shows someone in city leadership is willing to put some skin in the game when it comes to reviving downtown.
The press release issued by Ian and Kristina Baltutis, stated that the business will partner with Sustainable Alamance and Benevolence Farm. Both are operations that help men and women released from prison gain a new chance at employment and lives after a criminal past. Both are tremendous programs that help people in need of a hand become self-sufficient and positive contributors to the community. In the release Ian and Kristina say the bookstore will operate under the idea of “Giving books and people a second chance.”
It’s an appropriate statement for the bookstore as well. Located at 117 W. Davis Street, on the same block as the Downtown Barber Shop and Burlington Nutrition, the investment by the the Baltutis family will continue a retail operation that has grown rapidly since the Genterts started it 2017. According to the release, plans call for an expansion that will include a book processing site in an as yet undetermined location. Men and women will work there through Sustainable Alamance and Benevolence Farms.
“For years Sustainable Alamance and Benevolence Farm have been helping private sector businesses employ people with criminal records. Merging the Persnickety Books business with this mission is the perfect opportunity to make a major impact on creating meaningful work, sustainable economic progress, and reducing recidivism,” Ian said in the release.
A native of Minnesota, Ian Baltutis remained in Burlington after graduating from Elon University. He began a business and immediately immersed himself in the community. He ran for office on a couple of occasions before winning the race for mayor in Burlington in 2015, becoming at age 30 the youngest mayor in city history. He is now in his second term. Dr. Kristina Baltutis is a veterinarian with Happy Tails Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Greensboro. She is a graduate of N.C. State University.
Too often political leaders in communities are unwilling to roll up their sleeves and take a personal stake in what goes on. One thing that has impressed me about Ian and Kristina Baltutis is the interest they take in events, organizations and people not just in Burlington but Alamance County. I noticed it right away, especially in downtown.
I’m glad to see this trend continue.