Nestled cozily in the Old Ralston Granary is a quaint collection of three stores under one roof called MERJ Unique Boutique Books and Toys.
The newest among these family-owned shops is the bookstore, owned by Ralston High School midterm graduate Maribel Navarrete.
The three stores started out as just one: a clothing store. Then Navarrete’s father began collecting toys, and he soon had enough to open up a toy store. After that, Navarrete decided that it was her turn to follow her entrepreneurial dreams.
“I opened my business because I have always loved books,” said Navarrete. “When we found the storefront I am in, I jumped at the chance.”
Although the bookstore will not open officially until Feb. 1, Navarrete has been working towards that opening day since August. Navarrete explained there is a lot that goes into getting a store up and running, including acquiring inventory, setting up furniture, organizing inventory, and, of course, reams of paperwork.
But when all the necessaries of preparing a business opening are complete, the true heart and soul of the shop will be revealed. Navarrete plans to open her store with an open mic poetry reading, something she said may spill out into the Granary’s wider concourse.
“It will probably have to be in the hall outside the shop,” she said. “The shop is a little small for that.”
The 7 p.m. reading, which Navarrete is calling Poem for a Purpose will have a $5 suggested donation for entry, which will be given to a nonprofit organization.
Navarrete’s inventory includes all kinds of books. She said some of them are hers and some were purchased at an estate sale where there was a full garage and basement full of books. But her store seems aimed toward anyone. Self-help books, classics and the “Twilight” series are all visibly on display.
Navarrete admits owning a bookstore at 17 is difficult, but, as she’s taking up a spot among her family’s other businesses, she has a great support system behind her.
“Sometimes it’s harder due to the fact that I am so young,” she said. “Having my mom there to back me up is always a big help, but I am starting to get a pretty good grasp on how to manage things on my own.”
Along with the many challenges she faces in owning her own store and getting it ready for its opening, Navarrete said there have already been some triumphs as well.
“I like the fact that when I started, I didn’t get customers off the bat,” she said. “Now I get a few people here and there, which may not seem like much, but getting one customer after not having a customer all week is a really great feeling.”
As far as the future goes, Navarrete is in line for attaining a Goodrich Scholarship at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She plans to spend two years at Metropolitan Community College before transferring to UNO. Ultimately, she’d like to be a high school English teacher.
Another benefit of family in the immediate vicinity at the Old Ralston Granary is that when Navarrete is at school, she can find some help to mind the store.
In addition to the day-to-day operations of the shop, Navarrete plans to hold writer’s workshops at her store and incorporate storytimes for children.
“I want this to be a place where people come for the activities as well as the books,” said Navarrete. “Of course, donations are always welcome because books should never be thrown away.”