by Aimee Levitt
If you've been to the Grove lately, you may have noticed that there have been a few additions besides the garish neon sign at the intersection of Manchester and Chouteau Avenues. For one thing, there's actual retail now -- several dress shops, a hat shop and a florist -- plus two hair salons. And while the loss of the Newstead Tower Public House and its burgers is still fresh and painful, there's Flavors BBQ and its smoked chicken wings.
And now, on Saturday, Not Just a Bookstore will have its grand re-opening in its new space at 4507 Manchester. Previously the bookshop was in the East Loop, but it closed in October, 2009, because there wasn't enough revenue, says its owner Connie Cheek. Cheek and her husband and co-owner Richard hope the Grove, despite its reputation as gay bar central, will be more hospitable.
"I'm 47," she explains. "A lot of people my age don't want to go to clubs. They want something else to do."
Cheek plans to fill that gap with jazz on Friday nights and spoken word and poetry on Saturdays. The store will serve tea and coffee and Christopher's Gourmet Cupcakes (owner Christopher Greenfield is an old friend of Cheek's); once it gets its liquor license, there will be wine. As she did at the old location, Cheek will host parties and rent the space out for businesses who want to hold events outside the office.
"I see this as a community hub," says Cheek. "I want to empower people. I'm an advocate for literacy as well as a bookstore owner."
Cheek describes Not Just a Bookstore as "multicultural," but she carries a far wider range of titles by African-American authors than other local bookstores. "We're black," she says, "but we're not just urban lit."
She's also aware that the Grove is already home to Ujamaa Maktaba, an African-American bookstore that has been at the corner of Manchester and Tower Grove Avenues for fifteen years.
"I was reluctant to be on Manchester," she says. "The last thing I want to do is take business away from them. I'm going to talk to them and let them know we want to collaborate with them. When we were on Delmar, I used to send customers to them, and they would send customers to us."
Cheek believes the stores won't be in direct competition because Not Just a Bookstore is more multicultural, while Ujamaa Maktaba tends to focus more on Africa.
Not Just a Bookstore will open on Saturday at noon. (Richard Cheek has been there all week installing shelves and unpacking books.) Cheek says many St. Louis authors, such as Pat Simmons, Rose Jackson-Beavers and Keisha Ervin (subject of a 2009 Riverfront Times feature story) have promised to attend. Jennifer Luckett, an author from Mississippi, will be coming in to read, and Fred Walker, a jazz musician, will perform.
On Tuesday, the store will assume its regular hours, opening at 8 a.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. on Saturday. It will close at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday but will be open late on Fridays and Saturdays. For now, Cheek will keep her job as a branch administrator at Edward Jones and leave the store in the hands of Richard and her sister Rosemary Chinaza.
"I don't want to go into an area and close up two years later like last time," Cheek says. "Owning a bookstore is a dream come true for me. There are kids in high school and elementary school who are afraid to read out loud. I want to empower people."