Lenoir book store Venti's Casa to close May 25

May. 16, 2013 @ 01:34 PM

A downtown Lenoir bookstore is preparing to close at the end of the month, after years of struggling to generate enough sales to stay open as the only independent book store in the city.

The planned closure May 25 of Venti’s Casa Bookstore and Cafe, on whose storefront windows going-out-of-business signs appeared Tuesday, is the result of a combination of factors, including the departures a family member and friend who helped run the business.

But it also is attributed by owner Debra Venti to limited sales that did not keep pace with growing expenses related to inventory and other expansions over the years.

“The community hasn’t supported it the way I thought they would,” she said.

The retailer, like other small businesses, has seen peaks in sales during certain months, such as January and February. But after seven years of running the bookstore, she said, “it’s still not where it needs to be.”

Venti, after leaving her job as a merchandise manager at Broyhill Furniture, spent tens of thousands of dollars to renovate what was a largely vacant three-story building she purchased before opening the bookstore in 2005.

That was when she when she sought to fill a void in the downtown retail scene.

“We didn’t have a book store,” she said. “Every little community has a book store.”

She started accumulating a range of books, from children’s literature and novels to travel magazines and other periodicals, that now line the wall of the spacious store.  And she opened a café in the rear of the store serving espresso and pastries about three years ago.

The business was not a critical source of financial stability for Venti, a resourceful woman who has worked in the furniture industry for more than 25 years and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2007. She now works as a merchandise director for a furniture design company.

But it carries a certain sentimental value as a reminder of the childhood of one of her two daughters, whom she recalled spending hours in book stores when growing up.

“This was my daughter’s dream,” she said of BreeAnn, now 19, who is preparing to attend Arizona State University.

It also is place in which Venti, after spending 15 years as a single mother, met her husband, Jack Brown, less than a month after it opened in December.

“It’s been a great ride,” she said.

The closure does not necessarily reflect the health of business in Lenoir, said Nick Dula, director of downtown economic development in Lenoir. 

Indeed, “a lot of positive energy” has descended on downtown over the past two years, he said, including the openings of businesses such as Highland Coffee House and 1841 Café, both on Main Street.

“Even in the best economies,” Dula said, “businesses open and close.”

Still, a common refrain among some who trickled into the bookstore over the years suggested such a business would fare better in places such as Boone and Blowing Rock, Venti recalled.

And “that’s the problem,” she said, adding “every dollar” spent at small businesses ultimately is a boon to their respective economies.

“If we keep the money local,” she explained, “we can do whatever we want.”

Venti plans to continue running the gift shop, She-Sha’s, adjoining her bookstore. She said she already has had discussions with potential buyers, though she did not elaborate.

Running the book store has proved a positive experience for Venti, who has made and maintained relationships with many “dear friends.”

Among them is Neena Tysinger, who bought the majority of her reading material from what she said is “my bookstore.”

She was aware over the past year of plans by Venti to shutter the bookstore.

Still, Tysinger said, “it breaks my heart.”

“People in this county,” she added, “don’t realize what they’re losing.”