Jane Estes, founder of Lark & Owl in Georgetown, Texas, talks about the importance of being inclusive, the power of teamwork, and shares some favorite books.
By Jessica Dukes
We love a good origin story. How was Lark & Owl Booksellers founded?
Our bookstore grew out of an author series that I began almost five years ago. I met many authors through my volunteer work with the Writers’ League of Texas. Local and regional authors were invited to join me in conversation about their books, their research, and their writing process. These private events were held in people’s homes and became very popular with each event garnering 50 to 60 people, who each purchased a book.
In December of 2017, I hosted six children’s book authors for an event on a cold, windy night when most people were at their kid’s holiday choir concert. Worried that there would be low turnout, I hoped that whoever showed up would buy books from each of the authors. Well, 50 people braved the cold to listen to authors talk about their books, and the attendees made multiple trips to their cars carrying stacks of books.
That’s when the lightbulb went off for me. I knew I needed to stop saying, “Until we have a bookstore in town…” and actually do something to make the dream a reality. So, I went to my kickass friends, who know how to get things done, and asked who wanted in on the project.
Along with nine other women, I formed a company and started looking for a space for a cozy bookstore. In brainstorming about a name for the business, we discussed wanting a store with extended hours, which spawned some teasing about the “night owls” of the group not having to work the morning shifts. Misty Adair then said, “That’s it! Lark & Owl!” Everyone agreed that it was the perfect name for a group of people who were pretty evenly divided into night owls and morning larks! We knew that the historic downtown area of Georgetown was the perfect location for a bookstore, but there were no cozy spaces to be had. Then, I got a call from the owner of the iconic Monument Café, who had a space in their building. Wide open, light, and airy, this was the antithesis of a cozy bookshop. So we reconvened and created a new vision: a bookstore, boutique, and bistro that would provide an experience for customers.
Sixteen months after the light bulb moment, Lark & Owl Booksellers opened our doors to our community. Customers came into the store with tears in their eyes and said, “We’ve been waiting for this!” The Bistro opened in July 2019 with coffee, wine, beer, cocktails, and pastries, and we’re already expanding the menu.
What do you love the most about your bookstore?
We LOVE that people from all backgrounds feel welcome in our store. We were intentionally inclusive in curating our books, retail, and programming. In a short period of time, many people have taken us aside to thank us for the representation. And when those customers leave the store, we have a tearful moment at the cash wrap. To know that you made someone feel seen is truly powerful and even life-changing for all involved.
What book (or series) do you recommend most, and why?
We each have our favorites. Where the Crawdads Sing is a staff favorite, and we have sold more than 300 copies of that book since we opened three months ago. I like to recommend My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman. Rachael sells the heck out of the Outlander series, and Janet, our book buyer, is our go-to person for all things current and literary!
What’s the last great book you read?
The last great book I read was The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, which comes out in October. Janet’s latest favorite is The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and Kristina loved The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar. There are so many to name!
What’s the most unique or memorable thing that’s happened at the bookstore?
There have been so many moments of true connection in our store. People come to bookstores when they need answers, and that has certainly happened at our store. People who are grieving come for help. Teens who are questioning come for books that will help them process their feelings. It may look like a customer is just browsing, but you really never know what a person is going through. We’ve been writing down the compliments we receive from new customers, and our current favorite was from an older gentleman who took a turn around the store and then came up to the bookseller at the cash wrap and said, “The people who did this need to run for president.” That made our day!
What are the big book trends at your store right now?
We’ve been surprised in the most lovely way that poetry has flown off the shelves. So we are expanding that section of our store by increasing the number and diversity of poets we carry. We believe we can strive to be a bit edgier in this section as we go. And our community is hungry for book clubs, so we are starting our Lark & Owl book club in September, in which we will read and discuss Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep.
Who are some of the local authors you’ve gotten to know or would recommend?
Some of our local favorites are Owen Egerton, Elizabeth Crook, Katherine Center (from Houston), and John Pipkin for adult fiction. Children’s book authors include Bethany Hegedus, Nikki Loftin, Jason Gallaher, and Paige Britt. We are so fortunate to live in an area with such a supportive literary community.
What’s the biggest surprise about working at a bookstore?
We are constantly surprised that each day is different in so many ways. And that having a bookstore in our city has made SO many people happy. In the first two weeks we were open, we sold 2,700 books (more than 25% of our inventory). It is very humbling to think that we put books into that many hands, that many lives. Another surprise is that our retail sidelines have done so well. We have a crackerjack retail team and they have curated collections of gifts that blend beautifully with our superb book collection.
What’s your all-time favorite bookstore?
My all-time favorite bookstore is Murder by the Book in Houston. It’s a mystery lover’s dream! The staff and owners of that bookstore are the gold standard for how to run a bookstore, inspire readers, and hand sell books. Kelly’s favorite is Shakespeare and Company in Paris. And Janet loves to visit The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle.
Visit Lark & Owl Booksellers at 205 W. 6th Street Suite 101, Georgetown, Texas; online at larkandowlbooksellers.com.