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Rainy Day Books owners hope to ‘pass the baton’ to someone who loves books as much as they do

Two booksellers stand inside a bookstore; each is holding a book and they are hugging. Behind and around them are books shelved neatly.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Vivien Jennings and Roger Doeren pose inside Rainy Day Books, each holding a copy of one of their favorite reads.

Founder and president Vivien Jennings, and her husband, Roger Doeren, chief operations officer, are in their 70s – and ready to retire.

Rainy Day Books, the long-running bookstore in Fairway, Kansas, posted a letter to potential buyers on its website on May 2.

“It is time for someone new to be the face and voice of Rainy Day Books,” wrote owners Vivien Jennings and Roger Doeren.

The announcement of their plans to sell the store, which opened in 1975, surprised many customers.

Through the decades, the shop at 2706 W. 53rd Street has weathered the arrival of bookstore chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble and the rise of Amazon and online book buying, as well as economic recession and then COVID.

“We had to adapt and that’s what we’ve done all those years,” said Jennings, founder and president. “We’ve always thought if a door opens, go through it.”

But Jennings, 77, and Doeren, 70, told KCUR's Up to Date that they would like to spend more time with their family — especially the newest members.

“I have a great-grandchild. Roger has a new grandchild. And we realized that we weren’t spending as much time as we would like with family and with friends, too,” she said.

“We realized that we just don’t have the energy to work all day and then be at Unity Temple until midnight,” she added, referring to the major author events the bookstore frequently hosted at Unity.

Jennings said they wanted to begin the process of selling the store “while we still had the energy to make it work really well, while we could still be available to the new owners for a while.”

Two elderly people are seen up close peeking over books that are standing on top of a book rack. Behind them are aisles lined with books and bookshelves.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Vivien Jennings and Roger Doeren days of peering over the merchandise at Rainy Day Books is coming to an end.

When Jennings first opened the bookstore, it was in a “little space where the police station and jail had been. And it was 450 square feet and the rent was $200 a month if you can believe that. And so I was able to start there.”

She added, “I believed in myself. It was a challenge, but I decided I could. “

At first, the focus was on used books. Jennings bought books in Texas and at estate sales and set up a paperback exchange, trading used books for credit or paying a small fee to exchange.

“People said they loved buying those books from me,” she said, “but couldn’t I sell them new books, too?”

And new books, featuring Jennings in conversation with authors, became the lifeblood of the business. Before COVID, Rainy Day Books hosted about 300 author events a year.

"In a newspaper article or a magazine article quite a few years ago," Jennings remembered, "I said, 'The book signing itself is over. You have to give people some kind of experience with it.'"

Tickets to an event included a full-price copy of an author’s book. Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen King and Martha Stewart were just a few of the authors.

Jennings estimates they’d see about 50,000 people a year.

“We have had such an incredible life. It has nothing to do with money. It had to do with the wealth of the experiences we had,” she said. “I've interviewed presidents, I've interviewed astronauts. I've had conversations with, you know, leading writers, photographers.”

But, as they posted in the newsletter, when the store re-opened in 2021 and the “pace and hospitality of the author events” started up again, it required “greater stamina than we have at ages 77 and 70.”

Instead of a “gentle start” in response to the announcement of the sale, about 100 interested parties have reached out so far, including potential national and international buyers. Jennings’s son, Geoffrey Jennings, is handling the inquiries through June 30.

In early July, they’ll plan to follow up with potential buyers who are “the best fit.”

In an ideal scenario, Jennings said, they’d “pass the baton to someone local — because they would keep that connection to all the local partners.”

She estimates that they’ll be involved through the end of 2022 and into 2023 if needed.

“We’re not jumping out. We’re going to be present for the new owners,” Jennings said. “We created this legacy of literacy and we want to make sure that continues without a break."

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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.
As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.
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