The Bookworm, one of Omaha’s best-known independent bookstores, will vacate the corner store it has occupied at Countryside Village for 15 years and relocate just over a mile away to Loveland Centre, a new shopping center under development by Slosburg Co. at 90th Street and West Center Road.
Phillip and Beth Black, who’ve owned the bookstore for 28 years, told The World-Herald on Monday that they hope to reopen at the new location around the first of October.
“That’s our target date,” Phillip Black said. “We would close on a Saturday, move Sunday and theoretically reopen a day later,” he said.
On Monday, the Blacks had not yet told customers or retail neighbors of their plans to relocate. However, one longtime customer, Deborah Keating, who Beth Black said was “in the right place at the right time,” knew of the move.
Andrew Myers, who co-owns Countryside Village, expressed dismay Monday at the bookstore’s announcement, saying, “We feel a little ambushed.”
Speculation that the bookstore might relocate had surfaced last month after Loveland Centre took a City of Omaha permit listing The Bookworm at the center’s location.
Myers said he was not notified of The Bookworm’s decision to move until Monday morning.
“We were never told that they wanted to leave,” Myers said. “They never approached us directly saying they wanted to stay in the Village or requested a renewal proposal or to begin negotiations. Nothing.” That said, “after a 15-year partnership we certainly wish them well.”
Keating, the longtime customer, said, “I’m so sorry they have to move. It’s been a wonderful location for them and fabulous for the neighbors, but I want them to continue to be successful, so I know myself and my friends will be making that turn a little earlier — at 90th Street. It’s a huge loss for Countryside Village.”
The 61-year-old shopping center’s vacancy rate, as it undergoes a million-dollar renovation, is about 25 percent, said Myers, who owns Countryside Village with his mother, Mariana Myers.
Myers took over management of the center after the death of his father, Larry W. Myers, in April 2013. Countryside was built in 1953 by Andrew’s grandparents, Larry and Virgie Myers.
The Blacks, who’ve owned The Bookworm for 28 years and have had three store locations, began mulling another move last spring. The bookstore opened at Regency Court in 1986, moved to a larger space at Regency and in 1999 moved to Countryside Village.
“This will be our last move,” Beth Black said.
Their lease at the 87th and Pacific Streets center was up at the end of May, but Countryside didn’t contact them about renewing the lease until a few weeks ago, Phillip Black said. Myers said Countryside may have been too casual about contacting them, “but Countryside is a handshake kind of place with long-term tenants. It’s regrettable they didn’t communicate with us. We have a number of long-term tenants from my father’s day that are month-to-month.
“When people ask what’s happening at the center, we say check out the new renovations, the new landscaping, the new sidewalks, the new roofs, new teak planters. ... It’s the most ambitious renovation we’ve ever launched in our 61-year history.”
Ultimately, a combination of factors contributed to the Blacks’ decision to move 1.2 miles away, the couple said.
Loveland’s developer, Slosburg Co., made them a “good offer” on a 6,184-square-foot space in the middle of the new shopping center.
Phillip Black said that had The Bookworm stayed put, the business might have faced a “substantial rent increase.”
Myers disputed that, saying Countryside presented proposals for three different bays at the center and at “hugely below-market rates. But it’s a moot point, because they evidently already had a signed a lease,” Myers said, referring to the permit made public in July.
Phillip Black said, “We looked at all our options when our lease ran out. We came to the conclusion it was better to move. We’re doing what’s best for the store.”
The new Bookworm location will be on one level and include new LED lighting, new bookshelves on casters, a larger storeroom and other amenities.
The store’s current location, a two-story, 6,000-square-foot, upstairs-downstairs layout, no longer fit customers or staff, the Blacks said.
The children’s book department occupies the basement level, accessible only by stairs, making it awkward for mothers with strollers and inaccessible to the handicapped and some senior citizens.
“Grandparents have had to stay upstairs while our staff ran up and down the stairs pulling books,” Beth Black said. “Our staffs’ knees are going out.”
Phillip Black said, “We’ve grown our business since coming here.” But with that growth, Beth Black said, “We’ve run out of room for people,” citing a recent author signing that had customers snaking through the store and out the door.
“Countryside has been a very good home for the last 15 years,” she said.
The Blacks told their staff — five full-timers and about 30 part-timers — on Sunday that the store would be moving.
Diana Abbott, the store’s general manager, said the move “will be wonderful. ... It will give the store a brand new setting, brand new lighting” and a configuration that will better accommodate customers and showcase the store’s offerings.
In recent weeks, the activity level at Loveland Centre, under construction since summer 2013, has stepped up. At least a dozen workers were on site Monday at the 90th and West Center location. A new parking lot outside the center is taking shape. Work was being done Monday on a new sidewalk that fronts 90th Street. Glass windows and doors have been installed in the midsection of the 44,625-square-foot shopping center.
The new center replaces West Loveland Shopping Center, which was built in the late 1950s and which Slosburg Co. demolished in 2011.
Slosburg has said that Loveland will house upscale restaurants, specialty boutiques and service retailers.
The only other announced tenant so far is Pure Barre, a new-to-Omaha fitness chain that focuses on pilates, yoga and ballet. It plans to open a nearly 1,800-square-foot studio at Loveland this fall, local owner Kristen Papenfuss has said.
Meanwhile, book lovers are not the only ones who visit The Bookworm — dogs, accompanied by their owners, are also frequent visitors under the store’s dog-friendly policy.
Prompting the question: Will dogs be welcome at the new store?
“That,” Beth Black said, “would be an emphatic yes.”
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