The Morris Book Shop, which in eight years has become a big part of Lexington’s literary scene, is for sale, and owner Wyn Morris said if he can’t find a buyer he will close it.
“My first choice by a long shot would be to sell the store to somebody younger, with fresh ideas ... somebody who’s ready for a challenge,” said Morris, 52, who has worked in bookselling and publishing for 25 years.
“I don’t feel any sense of failure, because so much has gone right,” he said. “We’ve had a great run with doing events and community outreach and all that kind of stuff.”
But Morris said the store, which began on Southland Drive in 2008 and moved to 882 E. High St. in Chevy Chase five years ago, has been “barely profitable” despite its popularity with customers and local authors.
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Small, independent bookstores have been struggling for years amid a host of competitors. There is Amazon.com, which has a big warehouse in Lexington, and other online retailers; chain bookstores, big-box retailers; and downloadable electronic books, although their popularity has leveled off.
Lexington also has an older and larger independent bookstore, Joseph-Beth Booksellers; several other bookstores of all sizes and specialties; and an excellent public library system.
“The fact is — and always has been in the time we’ve existed — that there are lots of places to buy books and lots of ways to get books easily,” he said. “It’s just the reality of being a bricks-and-mortar bookseller in 2016.”
Morris also said he is tired, and he would be more tired if he didn’t have a great staff that enables him to take time away from the store. Still, he said, “I’m ready to try something else, and what that is I don’t have a clue.”
The Morris Book Shop stocks an extensive selection of more than 20,000 books, with a focus on Kentucky authors, as well as gift items “that pay for a lot of poetry books on the shelf,” he said.
I’m ready to try something else, and what that is I don't have a clue.
Wyn Morris, owner of The Morris Book Shop
The store also has a beautiful space, thanks to Morris’ wife, interior designer Vicki Sword, and her business partner, Blake Eames.
Morris said he and his wife have been talking about selling the store for several months, realizing their five-year lease would be up at the end of August and they needed to decide whether to make another five-year commitment. He recently told his three full-time and three part-time employees about his decision.
Morris said he has a great relationship with his landlord, Doug Gibson, who is extending the lease month-to-month after August, which will give him plenty of time to find a buyer.
“The location couldn’t be better,” Morris said, which led him to think that “if it can’t work here, it just can’t work, at least for me.”
Morris entered the book business in 1991 at Joseph-Beth after working at two Lexington record stores. He later worked for the University Press of Kentucky and Bloodhorse magazine’s Eclipse Press book division.
When he decided to open his own bookstore, Morris chose the name The Morris Book Shop because it had been a longtime Lexington store, founded in 1937 by a Morris family not related to him. (That family also started what became the University Bookstore on the University of Kentucky campus.)
“It’s not me Morris Book Shop; it’s The Morris Book Shop,” he said. “The previous Morris Book Shop had at least three separate owners, two of whom were not Morrises.”
Morris said he is confident he can sell the store. “I mean, who hasn’t always wanted to own a bookstore?” he said. “I’ve just got to find the right person.”
But if he doesn’t find them in a reasonable period of time, he will close.
“It has become such a big part of my life, that would be a tough decision to consider making,” he said. “But you’ve got to scrape the romance off it and look at it realistically. People go into businesses to attempt to make money.
“But if we go down, we’re going down with a party,” he added. “That’s just been the spirit of the store since day one.”