Beyond Business: Verb - More Than a Bookstore
Beyond Business: Verb - More Than a Bookstore
As the Gee Street area that borders Jonesboro’s historic West End Neighborhood continues to see growth and revitalization in the form of new businesses and patrons, its most recent addition has been a perfect fit.
Verb Bookstore, Jonesboro’s only independent bookstore and currently the city’s only bookstore, found its first brick and mortar home on Gee Street after the longtime dream of owner Sari Harlow was realized to the delight of Jonesboro’s book lovers.
Harlow says she has always wanted to open a bookstore, and a newfound confidence in herself and her abilities led her to take a leap of faith in 2020.
Originally from Mountain View, Harlow and her husband, Arthur, have lived in Jonesboro for 10 years. She attended Lyon College and finished at A-State online, graduating with a degree in interdisciplinary studies with focuses on French, political science and communications. She spent four-and-a-half years working for March of Dimes, a job she says really prepared her for what she’s doing now at Verb. Harlow has been with East Arkansas Broadcasters for the past four years, which has also helped her further communication, copy writing and marketing skills for opening her own bookstore.
“I have always dreamed of owning a bookstore; it was a pipe dream of when I retire or if I came into some money, but it was a far-off dream,” said Harlow. “After some personal growth and achieving some goals like running my first half marathon, this seemed feasible. The original version of my idea was to be a mobile bookstore. I saw some coffee shops that did that and were successful, so that was the original direction I first started pursuing. God and the universe kept lining things up along the way that led me here instead.”
Jonesboro did not have an independent bookstore, and after a tornado destroyed Barnes & Noble in March 2020, it didn’t have a bookstore at all. Harlow bought the inventory from a bookstore named Spider’s Webb in Walnut Ridge when it went out of business later in 2020 and proceeded from there.
“We started online for the first six months or so, then we started doing popup events in September 2021,” she said. “Last year, in November of 2022, we opened the brick-and-mortar location. It was one of those God-opened-a-door type of things. We’ve been friends with that crew over there and had been in the Gee Street community and that growth from our beginning, so when the space became available beside Story Coffee House, it was a great fit. The timing was right at that point because we had built up our brand and our following. It’s what our customers were wanting.”
Verb’s success on Gee Street already led to the hiring of an employee, former librarian Shelly Gage, as well as the addition of neighboring retail space to the store, allowing it to almost double in size. Formerly open Friday through Sunday, the decision to expand the store’s hours and open on Thursdays was based on the store’s growth.
“Jonesboro has received us with wide open arms,” said Harlow. “They recognized the void just like we did. It’s so cool to see this community of book lovers brought together. We’re not that big of a community, but these people who love these same kinds of books had not been brought together until now. Verb has been really instrumental in that, and it’s been really beautiful to watch. The community has just been so supportive and encouraging from the beginning.”
The bookstore owner’s goal was for Verb to be much more than just a place to buy books.
“Verb is a place to read books, share stories and connect communities, because we believe love is a verb; that’s where the name Verb came from, and that’s what we are all about,” said Harlow. “From our earliest days, we were trying to connect people with the love of books. That’s what we have been doing with our book club events. For the last one, 72 people bought the book and more than 40 showed up for discussion night. We are figuring it out as we go along; I had never been in a book club or moderated one, but we just thought our community needed this because people love books and wanted this connection and that experience.
“You can buy books and talk about them online, but the in-person experience has been lacking for so long. Story Time Book Club is a fun, motivational way to get people talking about a book and getting out of the house and bringing people together. That’s really what our mission is – yes, it’s about selling books, but it’s about connecting the community, as well.”
Harlow says her customers play a large role in deciding what books to carry in Verb. It’s a general interest bookstore that has about 5,000 new and used books on hand, and Harlow likes to offer a little bit of everything, from children’s books to fiction and non-fiction. She also works to highlight Arkansas authors and local authors when possible.
“I am always looking at best seller lists, and we keep an eye on upcoming releases, but a lot of it is someone requesting a book and us looking into carrying it,” said Harlow. “I use my customers as a built-in recommendation list. What one enjoys, there are probably others out there who would, too. A lot comes from those connections and what our community makes of it.”
In addition to books, Verb carries a large selection of gift items, most of which are literary based, including mugs, tea, purses and bags that look like books and puzzles. The bookstore also carries Verb tote bags, hats and shirts.
“Since we are independent, I’m able to find and carry those unique, quirky things that you won’t find everywhere else that are my actual taste, not an algorithm,” said Harlow. “They’re a little bit nerdy and a little bit sassy like me.”
Verb’s owner is working to make those connections with other local businesses, as well. Harlow has partnered with Huntington Square’s Campfire Pizza for a “read a lot, eat a lot” promotion this summer, which will offer deals to customers as they devour great local pizza and devour a good book. Other upcoming events include Independent Bookstore Day on April 29, which will feature book sales and author signings, and a three-day reading retreat in June.
In the future, Harlow plans to move Verb to a larger storefront on down the street where she can hold events such as book signings and poetry readings, and she would like to utilize the 1971 Airstream she originally purchased for Verb before she opened the store on Gee Street.
“The Airstream’s name is Vera after my great grandmother,” said Harlow. “We still have her, but our plans for her were put on the back burner because our customers were asking for a brick-and-mortar location. If you have a mobile unit, you can do festivals and events to bring books into the community for areas that might not support a bookstore, so that is in our three-to-five-year plan.”
In the meantime, Verb continues to thrive and connect readers with one another as the bookstore becomes a part of the West End’s culture and community. For those with similar dreams, Harlow encourages them to take that leap.
“If you have a wild idea, just start taking the tiniest steps toward pursuing it,” she said. “Where I am at now is not at all where I thought I’d be two years ago. Be ready to pivot. When God opens a door, be ready to walk through it. There is opportunity all around us, you just have to be brave enough to take it. You don’t have to quit your job and get this huge loan. Take small steps and keep figuring it out.
“It goes to show how much our community has been starving for something like this. The need has been there, it just took someone giving it a shot. Now other communities nearby are establishing bookstores and book communities – it’s really encouraging. … I’m not claiming to be a book expert. I’m a book lover who had a wild, crazy idea and kept working towards it. I’m just here trying to get books into people’s hands, and I love that job.”
Verb Bookstore, located at 801 South Gee Street, Suite A, is open Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. For more information, find Verb Bookstore on Facebook or @verbbookstore on Instagram.