Sleepy Dog Books set to be only locally owned bookstore in community
Mount Pleasant will welcome Sleepy Dog Books as the only locally owned bookstore within the community on May 6 at its location at 120 E. Broadway St.
Jennifer and Riley Justis, owners of Sleepy Dog Books, aim to have the business be more than just a place for people to read.
The bookstore expects to have local authors and artists visit, writing and reading workshops, book clubs and poetry nights sometime in the near future once they have officially opened.
Jennifer and Riley hand pick each new, hardcover book in the store to hopefully appeal to different audiences.
“We have everything,” Jennifer said. “Everything from preschool board books all the way up to adult. We have fiction and non-fiction for both kids and adults. So every genre, from action, western to mystery to just general fiction.”
Besides books, Sleepy Dog Books offers different products such as eco-friendly stuffed animals, candles, bags, signs, bookmarks and journals from small businesses in Michigan or from women owned businesses.
The story behind the books
Jennifer and Riley both originally came to Central Michigan University to study education. The two met working at the restaurant, Italian Oven, in 2006 and have been together ever since.
The two grew up in households where reading and books were valued. The couple decided to keep this love for literature with their own children, Mason and Sophie.
The name for Sleepy Dog Books actually came as the result of the Justis family's love for reading to their two golden retrievers, Cooper and Rosie. The children read to the dogs as a way to build their reading skills and confidence.
“We've always had the kids do that and practice their fluency and their reading skills. They just curl up with the dogs and lay on them, and the dogs sleep while they read,” Jennifer said. “It's just always been that way, and that's what I grew up doing, too.”
Mason and Sophie even assist their parents as the bookstore's grand opening approaches. The two have been crucial in picking out certain books and toys targeted towards children.
“They are definitely involved and they'll be here a lot of the time, especially in the summer, and so will the dogs on occasion,” Jennifer said.
Being the only bookstore in Mount Pleasant is a challenge the Justis family is ready to take on. Riley sees Mount Pleasant as a “book desert,” due to its lack of bookstores that specialize in having a wide variety of ever-changing books.
“It just seems like such a void in mid-Michigan and it's not only the bookstore side of it. What I've always liked about bookstores is the community side of it, like the author events, the live music events and the opportunity to just hang out and do those type of things,” Riley said. “That's what we didn't have or didn't feel like was downtown.”
Despite there being a lack of locally owned bookstores in the city, the Justis couple hopes to understand the community and reflect its needs accurately.
“A lot of research is the biggest component to really understanding the market of the community, what people are interested in and what people are reading. (This applies to) not only in your specific town but in your region ... (and) really understanding how the community and the store play together,” Riley said.
What sets Sleepy Dog Books apart from other stores that sell books is the ability to change and adapt on a whim, Jennifer said. The store can make decisions on products and what it offers without having to wait to get approval.
“We are able to support who we want and bring in who we want. (We get to) do the book clubs, the workshops, the author events and other events that we want to be able to do,” Jennifer said. “We can support the small businesses where Barnes and Noble isn't going to get a mom from Holland who does watercolors. That's what I love about it, we can support those different small businesses.”
Make It Mount Pleasant subsidy grant program
The family owned business was selected by Make It Mount Pleasant’s rental subsidy program. The program selects business owners for a monthly grant to help support small businesses.
The subsidy grant totals to $4,200 for one year. Each month, recipients of the grant are given a specific sum of money starting at $500 for the first three months. As each increment of three months goes by, the money received decreases by $100.
The Justis couple applied for this grant to assist in getting the bookstore prepared for opening day.
"I think (the Make It Mount Pleasant Program) is great for new businesses, specifically because for us it was great since we weren't open right away,” Riley said. “We started paying rent prior to us making any revenue.”
Make It Mount Pleasant began in 2020 when Michelle Sponseller, downtown development director, examined challenges small businesses face when first opening.
Sponseller noted that new businesses do not have a lot of funding for marketing or buying merchandise when first opening.
“I look at it as anything that we can do to make our downtown small business owners more successful, the better we all are,” Sponseller said.
One of the reasons Sleepy Dog Books was chosen for the grant was because of the downtown’s need for a bookstore.
However, what made it “just a little sweeter” is that Sleepy Dog Books offers an online platform for people to purchase books without having to leave the comforts of their home, Sponseller said.
Sleepy Dog Books' use of the space has already impressed Sponseller.
“They have maximized that space in a way that is really creative,” Sponseller said. “They plan on having a really great community partnership. They want to do things not just in the store, but outside of the store as well.”
With the grant and all of the work so far, the Justis family is excited to see the future of Sleepy Dog Books within the community.
“It is not just a bookstore. A bookstore is some place to come and shop, but it's also a community area where we have community events and bring authors in or speakers in or different activities,” Jennifer said. “I'm excited to kind of explore that more and get the community involved too.”
Sleepy Dog Books will be open weekly 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and 12-5 p.m. on Sunday.