Tom Eblen

Morris Book Shop to close Jan. 30. ‘We’ve had a great run.’

Wyn Morris, whose Morris Book Shop became a Lexington literary institution during its nine-year run, said Tuesday he would close the business Jan. 30 after efforts failed to sell it as a going concern. The store was popular, but it has been losing money in a difficult business environment for independent bookstores.
Wyn Morris, whose Morris Book Shop became a Lexington literary institution during its nine-year run, said Tuesday he would close the business Jan. 30 after efforts failed to sell it as a going concern. The store was popular, but it has been losing money in a difficult business environment for independent bookstores. teblen@herald-leader.com

The Morris Book Shop, which became a Lexington literary institution during its nine-year run, will close for good Jan. 30 after owner Wyn Morris was unable to sell the business despite a lot of interest.

“I have found myself with no choice but to close,” Morris said Tuesday. “Selling something that is not profitable is a challenge.”

Morris announced July 5 that he hoped to sell the store he opened on Southland Drive in 2008 and moved to 882 East High Street five years ago, but if he couldn’t find a buyer, he would close. “We’ve had a great run,” he said, but competition from Amazon.com, big-box and chain stores that sell books was just too much.

Over the past five months, Morris said, he talked with about a dozen parties interested in buying the business, including “very serious conversations” with four groups.

But with a 20,000-book inventory worth about $250,000 wholesale and financial losses in recent months, interested buyers couldn’t raise enough capital or get loans from banks.

“There were some really interesting conversations and a lot of fascinating ideas,” Morris said of his discussions with interested buyers. “But none of it was sound enough to really work.”

Closing and liquidating the inventory “is my best chance to get what I need out of it,” said Morris, 53, who has worked in book selling and publishing for 25 years. “It’s had to be a pure business decision. It’s the right thing at the right time for me.”

From the beginning, Morris focused on Kentucky authors and community events, and he said that attracted a core of devoted customers.

“The outpouring of support has been heartening in a thousand different ways,” he said. “I don’t feel any sense of failure, because so much has gone right.”

Morris said it will be business as usual until Christmas, but he wanted to make the announcement now so he could stop selling gift cards. “We’re just going to barrel through the holidays and do the best we can for the customers who have been so loyal to us,” he said.

Liquidation sales will begin after Christmas, but Morris said he hasn’t worked out specifics. He had been on a month-to-month lease since August with landlord Doug Gibson, who Morris said has been very supportive.

“I don’t have a game plan yet, but there will be some bargains to be had,” he said. “We’re going to go out with a bang and make it as fun as we can.”

Morris said he hasn’t made plans beyond January for what he will do next. “I need to put all my efforts into doing this the right way,” he said of the store’s closing.

Jay McCoy, 48, who has managed the store for more than three years, hopes to open a new bookstore in the Chevy Chase area with business partner and fellow poet Savannah Sipple, 32, who teaches English at Hazard Community and Technical College.

Their plans, which could include a café with wine and beer, are still taking shape. They figure it would take as much as $200,000 in start-up capital. They have talked with local bankers, who they said liked their initial business plan and have asked for revisions. They also plan to launch an online a crowd-funding campaign in December.

Morris said he has confidence in McCoy and Sipple.

“I can’t think of anybody more equipped to succeed by building on what we started,” he said. “Besides, I know where they can get some great bookshelves, cheap.”

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