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Best bookstore in America? The Raven in Lawrence, Kansas

The Raven Book Store's new location on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence is nestled among the downtown's mix of restaurants, shops and galleries.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The Raven Book Store's new location, as of 2021, at 809 Massachusetts St. in Lawrence, Kansas, is nestled among the downtown's mix of restaurants, shops and galleries.

Publishers Weekly, an international news website of book publishing and bookselling, selected the Raven as this year's best bookstore out of five finalists.

On Tuesday, Danny Caine was in Bayfield, Wisconsin, for a spring meeting of the Midwest Independent Booksellers when he heard the news: Publishers Weekly named the Raven Book Store as Bookstore of the Year.

“It was a thrill,” said Caine, co-owner of the store and author of the book “How to Resist Amazon and Why” and three collections of poetry.

“I'm up here surrounded by the bookstore community, which is wonderful,” he said.

RELATED: A Lawrence bookstore tried to beat Amazon at its own game, and survived. Now it's expanding

Publishers Weekly announced the five finalists in March, saying they “are not only beloved by writers and the publishing community but also play a significant role in their communities.”

During a virtual awards ceremony, Caine accepted the award on a split-screen with some of the Raven’s other co-owners in Lawrence, Kansas.

“This is the biggest book industry trade publication saying we're the country's bookstore of the year. That’s enough for us,” he said. “The real reward is getting to do this work with this team and trying to make our bookstore — and perhaps the world — a better place.”

According to Publishers Weekly, members of the book industry, including authors, publishing professionals, and other booksellers, stated that “with creativity and panache” the Raven “supported authors and books during the pandemic ... in fact, sustained the indie bookstore industry.”

Publishers Weekly
In a virtual awards ceremony, Danny Caine shared a split-screen with other co-owners of the Raven Book Store to accept the bookstore of the year award from Publishers Weekly.

The Raven (named after the Edgar Allan Poe poem) first opened in 1987 in downtown Lawrence, specializing in mystery books. It morphed into a more general interest store after Caine bought it in 2017. Last year it moved into a larger space at 809 Massachusetts St.

Along with a new location, Caine also shares ownership of the store with his staff.

“In January, I sold about half the store to seven employees. So we’ve got seven employee-owners now in addition to me,” he said. “That's been really interesting and wonderful to try out the employee-owned model and just to try out a little bit more equitable of a structure for our business.”

He added, “It just feels like an exciting way to take the store into the future and try to retain employees and help people start a career in the book business if they want to. It’s been really meaningful and rewarding for me — and I’m sure for all the other new owners, too."

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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