In the 20 months that Get Lost Bookshop has been open downtown on Ninth Street,owner Meghan Gilliss has steadily added shelves and doubled,tripled and quadrupled the number of books and magazines on display.
In turn,the recent college graduate has seen a commensurate rise in the number of regular customers and curious shoppers wandering off Ninth Street to see what’s inside the cozy,somewhat cluttered bookshop.
The inventory caters to a wide range of interests and backgrounds,and the design makes readers feel comfortable browsing and perusing. A small couch by a children’s nook,the handmade signs and the name itself complement the homey atmosphere.
Gilliss opened Get Lost Bookshop in April 2008,about 14 months after Ninth Street Bookstore closed and nine months after Acorn Books had to leave its space next to the Missouri Theatre when the building was renovated.
For months,a downtown sandwiched between a university and two private colleges had no bookstore.
That dry spell,Gilliss said,“terrified me. I can’t tell you how scared I am of the death of culture.To see our downtown start to dry up as the box stores around the fringe grew bigger and bigger was just too depressing to sit by and watch.
“Bookstores,and independent bookstores in particular,in my opinion,keep us connected with the rest of humanity across space and throughout time. Books,I think,remind of us our potential. I think independent bookshops are important in college towns,where a skinny,dusty and otherwise seemingly innocuous volume might inspire a life’s work… or at least a momentary but passionate obsession.”
Gilliss said downtown Columbia has great potential for development: “I would love to see all the beautiful empty spaces filled with one-of-a-kind businesses.” But one of the obstacles to growth,she said,is the tendency of many young people to envision themselves as short-term residents.
“A lot of young,fresh energy leaves town for good on the heels of its diploma, ” she said.“I know this because I didn’t think I would be here after I graduated.”
Gilliss,who is from Louisville,Ken.,expected to leave town after graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Missouri.
Instead,she took a chance on an industry in transition. The number of independent bookstores has plummeted since the 1990s as they’re pushed out of business by high-volume chain stores such as Barnes & Noble and by online sellers such as Amazon.com.
Gilliss also started out small — in both space and inventory — unlike the Ninth Street Bookstore,which sold a wide array of new books and was located in a huge space with expensive rent that has since been portioned into three stores,including a florist and wine shop. Get Lost Bookshop is less than a sixth as large.