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In Rock Hill, A House of Books Struggles To Survive

Allison Blood, KMOX News
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Book House - Allison Blood, KMOX News
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ROCK HILL, Mo. (KMOX) - The Book House in Rock Hill has been selling books for decades but now the landowner is selling the property it sits on to a developer who will make it into an EZ Storage facility.

The Book House is a two-story house filled top-to-bottom with books. Visitors are greeted by a fluffy black cat and as soon as they step inside; there’s no question as to why it’s called the Book House.

There’s no wall space left blank. Every inch of wall space is covered by a book shelf, no space left empty. In most rooms, there’s barely room to walk between the aisles of book shelves, but in a few, large chairs sit, with big plush arms, ready to hold readers. There is a nook upstairs called the “poetry room” where a young couple once took their engagement pictures because they had their first date at the Book House. Owner Michelle Barron even says the place is haunted; long before it was a store, it was a doctor’s office and before that, an Inn. But for at least 30 years it’s held innumerable volumes.

Barron called it a “place to de-plug.” She says its important for children to hold a real book, not just stare at a computer screen.

But now she says she has three months to pack and move more than 300,000 books and find a new place to sell them. Barron has been trying to buy the historic house for years now but hasn’t been able to get a loan. She says Rock Hill City Hall told her there is nothing it can do. The property sits on a plot of land that’s about an acre and a half. Barron says originally landowner Rex Stahl told her she could just buy the house for about $300,000, but now he won’t sub-divide the property and the whole parcel would cost close to a million dollars.

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Barron says she would ideally like the whole parcel to turn into a community area with a coffee shop and a garden where people could sit and read. She says she’s reached out to several different historic societies but no one is able to help.

“It’s all about money,” she said. “And no one has that much.”

When asked if she’d start a Kickstarter.com fund to try to raise any of the money she’d need to make an offer or down payment, Barron was sheepish.

“I don’t want to seem like I’m begging,” she said.

There is a petition online for those who want to voice their opposition, but there is no place for donations.

Barron says she has been unable to get a loan for the property because of credit trouble stemming back in 2005. She says business was hard when Amazon.com and other online book sellers started shipping books directly to homes and devices like the Amazon Kindle made hard copies of literature less necessary.

But in the last two years, things have turned around.

“The last two years have been better than the previous ten,” she said. She’s doubled her orders from publishers and she does some business online, which she says is booming.

“I could probably pack this all up and put it in a warehouse and sell online only and make more money,” she said. “But it’s not the same.”

Barron says she feels she’s been passed a torch by other small book sellers who came before her. “I’m really the only one young enough to keep it going.”

Book House 3She says she will try to keep a shop open after she’s kicked out of her current location on Manchester Road. She doesn’t know where she’ll go, but would like to buy her next place.

“But it still breaks my heart to leave. This place saved my life,” she said.

When Barron was in her 20s she had two small children and no place to live. She was able to start living at the Book House and running it. She doesn’t live upstairs anymore; the entire building is a store now. The store sells recent best-sellers but also deals in rare books. One of the oldest books in the place is from the 1500s, a book on the lives of Popes. She also has several first editions. In a secure warehouse, she says she’s got a first edition of the Hobbit, and it can be yours for $8,500, according to the Book House website.

“I have done everything I can to save this building, this place,” she said. But Barron says she’s already making plans to pack up all the books and move out of the Book House, her home for more than 30 years.

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