Rally Report and Recap Re The Book House


Yeah, I’m all about alliteration. Heh. See how I did that?

Last night, we held a rally for The Book House. The purpose was to raise awareness of the situation itself, the possible shuttering of yet another indie bookstore in the area, and to talk, discuss, and network potential solutions. I didn’t do a head count, but Michelle said she estimated about 30 in the crowd. Channel Five showed up too – you can see the footage here.

We handed out fliers and stood out by Manchester Road, waving signs and jumping up and down. I felt kinda silly, but hey – we had a lot of horn honking and smiles and waves! Folks from Illinois came over the river to support The Book House, and a mom brought her two kids who’d made a sign. She said they were crushed when they heard the store might close, and wanted to be at the rally too.

bookhouse

So here’s the recap:

The property owner has the lot on which The Book House sits, as well as the building, up for sale – either as one small parcel or as nearly the entire block. It’s listed at $300K and $990K, respectively, and the potential buyer, Great Northern, has yet to close on the parcel. At the same time, developer Bill Bowman has stated that he’d like to help Michelle by moving the building and/or her business. Thus far, there has been no formal agreement or contract.

Several of the Rock Hill council members have shown support for The Book House and, admittedly, their hands are somewhat tied in this situation. Personally, I think they could look outside the box a bit and maybe come up with something more creative than lip service.

Yes, there is a petition – it has no legal premise, but does show the city of Rock Hill that a lot of people are going to be very upset if the building is demolished and The Book House closed. 1692 have signed the petition, from 13 countries, 41 states, and DC.

And there’s a crowd funding campaign as well. The goal is $300K, and at the moment the total sits at $435. Now, with $300K, Michelle could potentially buy the building and the lot – but with just $50K in funding, she’ll be able to move the store. So every little bit helps!

Why am I involved in this? Several reasons, as I’m a reader, an author, and a publisher. And a bookseller.

But mostly because an attack on one indie bookstore is an attack on all – and make no mistake, this is an attack by the property owner, Rex Stahl. So here’s my letter to him:

Dear Mr. Stahl:

The property on which The Book House sits is indeed your property to use how you wish. I understand that it’s been in your family for quite some time, that you inherited it from your mother. From one standpoint, that makes the situation a bit different. It’s not like you’re a land speculator, buying and selling to make a profit. The entire sale price or, really, anything you make off a sale or other arrangement is pure profit to you. And yes, it’s your property, you’re entitled to that.

I don’t know you, Mr. Stahl, but I do know at least one person with whom you are or have been associated, and I know him – he has no conscience, no morals, no sense of what’s right. And in this case, you seem to have been negatively influenced. You are indeed judged by the company you keep, at least in my opinion.

Oddly enough, Michelle Barron says you’re not a bad man. I fail to see how that can be, given your lack of responsibility for repairs and maintenance over the years, how you’ve tried to squeeze every nickel out of her and avoid spending any of your own money. Not to mention the ridiculous terms you offered her on a lease/purchase at one time.

Maybe you don’t read. Maybe you don’t care about books. I guess I can understand that. A little. But how can you possibly evict a tenant of almost 30 years with a simple service of said eviction? How can you not consider the situation of a long-term tenant, especially one who has improved countless lives through both  her bookstore and the charities she supports? My guess, and it’s only that, is the aforementioned association. Surely your own mother would not have approved of this.

I imagine your phone has been ringing quite a bit. I haven’t yet seen that you’ve publicly commented on the potential sale of your property, or the eviction of The Book House. And your other properties, at least the ones in your mother’s trust, are valued at well over one million dollars – would it really hurt you, financially, to work out a plan with Michelle?

I can tell you this – there are plenty of folks who are not at all happy with you right now. That includes the nearly 1700 people who have signed a petition to keep The Book House right where it is, and open for many years to come. And likely your potential buyer, Bill Bowman; probably, too, the city of Rock Hill. They’ve all been getting copies of that petition, every time someone signs it. And their phones have been ringing off the hook. All because of you and your decision.

So think about all this. Think about the right thing to do. There’s no shame in changing your mind about the best course of action. I promise, you could be a hero to a lot of people.

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The Book House – Rally Tomorrow!


By now, you all have heard about the situation facing The Book House: eviction, closure, moving. If you haven’t, here’s a recap:

We first heard that an out-of-state developer was purchasing the property and planning to put in a new storage facility; this would mean The Book House would be torn down and would be forced to close or move. As it turned out, the sale had not gone through – it was supposed to close last week.

A petition was launched to try to save this iconic bookstore, and the building in which it’s housed, an historic 150-year-old Victorian home. To date, there are over 1500 signatures.

This won’t stop any action on the part of the developer, the seller, or the city, but it does show Rock Hill how we all feel about this potential disaster: every time someone signs the petition, the mayor, the aldermen, the city administrator, and the developer receive an email.

It might be working. The developer, Bill Bowman of Great Northern out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has reportedly backed out of the sale. He was also quoted as saying that he didn’t want to see The Book House go out of business and that his company could help move the store and/or the house itself.

In the meantime, the seller, Rex Stahl of Moscow Mills, has served The Book  House with a 90-day eviction notice, effective the end of July. We can assume that this has to do with the possible hold up of the sale, although Mr. Stahl has the property listed as 2-3 parcels; the one on which The Book House sits is one of them, asking price $300K. All parcels together, nearly the entire block, are listed at $990K.

Let’s talk about Mr. Stahl for a moment. He inherited the property from his mother. He has done no basic maintenance on The Book House for years. When the sewer backed up, he sent someone to fix it who then presented owner Michelle Barron with the bill. When the radiator broke, Michelle had to pay $750 to repair it. Ditto for when part of the ceiling fell in some years ago.

Michelle did try to negotiate a lease/purchase, but Mr. Stahl refused to do any repairs to bring the building up to code, required on a property transfer, and wanted her to also pay all property taxes during the term of that lease/purchase.

Now, there’s an Indiegogo campaign listed, to either help The Book House move to a new location or to help purchase the property on which it sits. Either/or, depending of course on how much is raised. But move to where?

My suggestion is anywhere but the city of Rock Hill.

Why?

According to a source, three years ago, Rock Hill had a chance to put in a historic corridor – I understand St. Louis County was even footing part of the bill. It was turned down. Just ONE year ago, Rock Hill came up with a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, part of which says:

“Rock Hill has also been successful in attracting and retaining locally- and regionally significant businesses, including Schiller’s Camera and Video, The Book House, RSI Kitchen and Bath, Farotto’s Restaurant, the Train Wreck Saloon, and Hacienda Mexican Restaurant. These businesses are regional institutions and contribute to the local flavor of Rock Hill’s business district.”

How about that? Yet, in this situation, and even though Rock Hill must approve a special use permit for this storage facility, they claim their hands are tied. And get this: Michelle used to sit on Rock Hill’s Historic Preservation Commission, but she said that a few months ago the mayor removed her from that board. Furthermore, the city of Rock Hill has ALREADY designated The Book  House as “historic.”

Last, but not least – tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 7,  at 6:00 p.m. there is a rally at The Book House. We’ll cover any new updates, let you know how you can help, and show our support of books and reading. Be there!

And you can keep up-to-date here, in the Facebook group “Save The Book House.”