Published on January 25th, 2018 | by Brittain Thompson0
Mississippi’s First Queer and Feminist Bookstore Opens in Water Valley
Violet Valley Bookstore is Water Valley’s most recent addition to Main Street and possibly the state’s first lesbian and feminist bookstore. The brainchild of Jaime Harker, a professor at the University of Mississippi, the store was launched with the aid of a Kickstarter campaign that rapidly met its goal.
“Owning a bookstore was always a dream, like anyone who loves books,” said Harker.
The store’s initial stock came from the American Association of University Women as well as donations of new and used books from individuals, explained Harker as she unpacked two large boxes that barely fit in each of the upholstered reading chairs. Harker has received a box of books either dropped off or mailed to her almost every day since the announcement of the Kickstarter campaign.
“Almost everything here was donated,” said Harker. “We just got our Kickstarter money and made our first order so everything here except maybe a handful are donated.”
Located at 303 Main Street, the space was previously Coulter Fussel’s studio until her needs outgrew what was, years ago, a two chair barber shop.
“Coulter started working with quilts and they just wouldn’t fit, it’s only 10 feet wide here,” said Harker. “I talked to my wife, Dixie, she’s the cook at B.T.C next door, about my idea and since she sees Coulter all the time I asked her to see if there were any plans for the space.”
From there things began to accelerate for Violet Valley.
“She told [Coulter] the idea and she loved it and said let’s do it now,” said Harker. “I wasn’t really ready. . .but it’s such a good opportunity it would be a shame to waste it.”
Their conversation took place in the spring of 2017, but Fussel had a show in October, giving Harker some runway to get everything in order.
“In the meantime I started doing some research,” said Harker. “I had a former student, Elizabeth Anderson, who worked for Charis Bookstore in Atlanta so she has been really helpful in telling me who to talk to and how revenue works. I talked with a lawyer in my network of friends about whether it should be for-profit or non-profit.”
Harker decided to go forward as a non-profit.
“I work for the university. . .I’m the director of the gender studies program,” said Harker. “I didn’t want there to be any perception that I was benefitting financially, though anyone who opens a bookstore knows you don’t do it for the money.”
Violet Valley, though already garnering attention from national press and booklovers alike, is still in its very early stages as a business. As of now everyone working at the bookstore is on a volunteer basis and puts in time when they can. The extent of the support for Violet Valley took Harker and everyone involved by surprise.
“It just spread,” said Harker. “We put out a Kickstarter and people started sharing it with friends. We didn’t know if we’d make our goal and we made it in four days.”
Though headlines highlight that the Violet Valley is a lesbian and feminist bookstore, the customer base is as varied as they come and Harker is just along for the ride to see what it turns into.
“It’s been somewhat of a mix,” said Harker. “Some locals, folks from Oxford, but the words getting out with book lovers. One person came in and said her friend from Georgia sent her a link and someone heard we had a soft opening when their friend in Brooklyn heard about us on the web. I don’t know if we’ll get people to come visit and be a tourist thing or if locals and people will come from Oxford. It’s all just an experiment.”
Violet Valley Bookstore is open Friday and Saturday from 10 am–4 pm and located at 303 Main Street in Water Valley. Violet Valley Bookstore will be hosting a “Grand Opening” party of February 2, 2018 at 6 pm.