SHOP TALK: 'A community space' at Sleepy Dog Books

Sleepy Dog Books celebrates their first year of operation in the community

Jenny and Riley Justis pose in their shop, Sleepy Dog Books. May 31, 2023.

In downtown Mount Pleasant, a cozy and bright bookstore fills an opening in the community. Sleepy Dog Books is owned and operated by Jenny and Riley Justis, and they recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of opening their doors. 

While their bookstore has only been part of the community for a year, the couple has older roots in Mount Pleasant. 

Central Michigan Life sat down with Riley Justis to learn more about the bookstore. 

Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got started?

So, Jenny and I met here at Central many, many years ago. We graduated in 2007. We actually met at the Italian Oven, we both worked there back when it was still open. We were both teachers, and during that time there were no teaching jobs in Michigan. 

So, we ended up moving to Alaska, but it was wonderful. We were up there for four years and had our daughter up there, and came back to Michigan where I worked at several schools. Jenny went to a couple schools to do consulting. I was a superintendent of Beaver Island and in inner-city Detroit. 

I came back to Mount Pleasant to get my Ph.D. at Central and (we) decided, as we lived here for a few years, that we really liked the community. We like the family friendly nature of the community -- there’s lots of kids’ activities and we have two kids. So, we decided we were going to stay here, even though I was done with my doctoral program. 

The one thing we didn’t like about the community is that there was no bookstore. We’re a college town, but no bookstore. So we’re like, ‘we have to change that.’ Then the pandemic hit. 

So, Jenny stayed home to teach and to teach our own kids. As they went back to school, we were trying to figure out if she’s going to go back into the schools or what we’re going to do. We were doing research at the same time about the bookstore and it just kind of all fit together at this point to open the store. 

What do you think your role is in the Mount Pleasant community?

Definitely, we’re part of the family-friendly community whether it’s the books or the different activities and events we do, trying to engage in community partnerships. 

We do a ‘Community Heroes’ series where we bring out firemen and police officers and doctors and veterinarians for storytime with kids. We’re really trying to make a community- friendly space. 

We kind of look at it like ‘what do we want for our kids?’ Whether they were littler, the same age, or a bit older, we try to make events and activities that would make sense for them. 

What was your most recent event?

The most recent event was an author event. The school year is tough, because everybody is in programs and sports, so we do a lot more kid activities in the summer. We did the ‘Community Heroes’ last summer, all summer long, and we’re going to do that again this year. 

We do author events throughout the year, though, where we have adult authors or kids’ authors come in. We actually partnered with Central to do some of their author events. 

What does the future look like for Sleepy Dog Books?

We’re really happy with where we’re at -- the customers and the amount of sales we have. But we’re trying to build relationships. (We’ll be) expanding some of our outside relationships like we did this year. 

We put book vending machines in at two local schools so the kids can have access to books. We’re also doing a mobile bookstore this summer, where we have a trailer that’s custom-built for a bookstore. (It) holds 1,600 books and we’re going to take it to events. There’s gonna be a bookstore on the road. 

I’ve never heard of a place with “Sleepy Dog” in the title before, what’s the backstory there? 

My wife is a literary specialist, and one of the activities for kids who are just learning to read is to read out loud, and also read to a stuffed animal or a pet or things like that. 

We have two golden retrievers, and both of our kids, when they were learning, used to lay on our dogs and read to them. So, the dogs would sleep, and the kids would lay on them and read. 

If readers could walk away with one idea after learning about you and your store, what would you have that be? 

It’s more than just a normal bookstore. We’re a community space … we want to reflect the needs and interests of the community. I think bookstores have the ability to do that because we’re engaging every day with the books we’re selling. 

We want the readers or customers to come in and feel comfortable in the space. It’s non-judgemental.