Q+A with The Book & Cover’s founders

Graphic with photo of the three founders of The Book & cover
An interview with the founders of The Book & Cover

This piece is a part of our Q+A series. Know someone we should interview? Nominate them here.

Book-lovers rejoice — Noogans Sarah Jackson, Blaes Green, and Emily Lilley are opening an indie bookstore + bistro in town.

The trio are Chattanooga natives + attended Girls Preparatory School. They reconnected in fall of 2020 when Sarah recruited Emily and Blaes to be part of a book club she co-leads — now we’re experiencing the history that follows.

There isn’t an opening date yet, but they’re hoping for ____.

Why are you opening a bookstore in Chattanooga?

Practically speaking, despite having what we have learned is an enthusiastic and engaged community of readers, Chattanooga does not presently have an independent bookstore selling new titles. We want to offer the independent bookstore experience to Chattanooga (as a complement to the vibrant used bookstore community we have here).

To that end, and more emotionally speaking, we want to create this space for the community we love where you can read stories, tell your story, and be in a curious and kind community. We have talked a lot about how, for a host of reasons, it can feel like we are more siloed and separate from each other than ever. The Book & Cover will be a space oriented around books and curiosity designed to convene community and grow us toward one another.

Where will the shop be located + what will the hours be?

The shop will be located in the heart of Riverview on Hanover Street. We are so excited to join our neighbors The Rosecomb, The Clay Pot, Nourish Point, Mustard Seed, Alice Blue, and Vine Street Market — and to be steps from the Riverview Playground and Park!

Right now we intend for our hours to be 7 a.m.-6 p.m., and will adjust as we learn our community and what works best.

What people can expect at The Book & Cover | Graphic by NOOGAtoday; photo provided

What can visitors expect when they walk into The Book & Cover?

At The Book & Cover our guiding principles are “read books” and “stay curious.”  To that end, we aspire to create a space for curious readers by offering an inviting, unique physical environment; curating a diverse and engaging inventory of books and products; and hosting programming that inspires participants to read, dream, and come together to create a better community.

When did this dream start? How are you making it a reality?

The dream of opening a bookshop began for each of us after seeing You’ve Got Mail in 1998 and falling in love with Kathleen Kelly’s Shop Around the Corner, compounded by a lifelong love of books. It was November 2020 on the front porch of Blaes’ home when we expressed that dream to each other and not too long after that we were taking serious steps toward realizing it with the support of some key initial backers.

Right now we are in the midst of a start-up capital crowdfund raise of $200,000. As we write this, we have raised $50,919 from 126 incredible community backers. Our decision to crowdfund this raise versus a more typical lending pathway was twofold: the margins on bookselling are such that any amount of debt-avoidance helps ensure sustainability and longevity and each person who gives (any amount!) becomes a known member of our community we can bear in mind as we order books, design programming, and build out the space. Our conversations with booksellers around the country have emphasized to us that both of these goals are critical to the long-term success of any independent bookstore, and we want The Book & Cover to become an institution in Chattanooga.

How did you come up with the name of your store?

The Book & Cover began as a blog and Instagram community (@thebookandcover) to share and discuss books, and the name was designed to indicate not only a devotion to stories but a delight in the beautiful covers that so often draw us into them — we love to celebrate the beauty of stories as well as physical books. The Book & Cover is a spin-off of The Year of Agatha (@theyearofagatha), a project Emily worked on with fellow Chattanoogan Audrey Cooper DeWild, where the pair read and discussed the complete works of Agatha Christie throughout a single year via a blog and social media platforms.

These projects introduced us to the #bookstagram community, and really began to demonstrate what a hunger and a joy folks have for sharing a love of books with each other. Emily harbored dreams of turning this community into a brick and mortar bookstore called The Book & Cover from the launch of the project in 2018, and when it became clear this was a vision Sarah and Blaes shared, we all felt the name was the perfect way to introduce a new independent bookstore to Chattanooga while building on an existing community. 

Can you describe the space?

It is a 1920s bungalow that has been reimagined and repurposed into a retail space. We love that even the walls and the floors themselves contain decades of stories. There is so much character and charm in the space — from the bright sunroom in the front to this funky geometric nook in the heart of it — it really is our dream space.

A white bungalow with big windows, a black door and awning + plants and flowers outside
The exterior of The Book & Cover space | Photo provided

Any idea about how many books you’ll have?

We recently reached a milestone in our start-up capital crowdfund that will allow us to make our initial book inventory purchase. For a space our size we are planning an initial inventory of approximately 3,000 books!

How many employees? Full/part time?

Sarah will manage the shop full-time when it opens and we also plan to have a part-time employee. Both Blaes and Emily will be working in the shop in the evenings and on weekends as well.

Will The Book & Cover have a section for local authors?

We will! We have talked and explored ways to realize that with industry peers and are excited to offer consignment models for local folks who have self published in addition to carrying those already stocked with publishers and wholesalers. 

Will you have a space to host authors for events?

Also yes! As we have conceptualized the shop we have talked a lot about making sure the space can be configured for a number of uses: author events, children’s story hour, book club gatherings, birthday parties, book-theme karaoke extravaganzas, tiny weddings, etc.

What’s your favorite book that has a Tennessee connection? Any with a Chattanooga connection? 

Blaes: I am wholly in love with Margaret Renkl’s “Late Migrations.” And I will always and forever read anything that fellow-Tennessean (and owner of Nashville’s Parnassus Books) Ann Patchett writes. 

Emily: I really liked Rebecca Makkai’s “The Hundred Year House,” which she began writing at The Sewanee Writer’s Conference. It’s so lovely to have such a wonderful resource fostering great writing just up the road from Chattanooga!

Sarah: It’s not a Tennessee connection, but I love that Rock City features in “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman as the site of the battle between the Old Gods and the New Gods. The details are pretty precise!

What section do you go to first when you visit a bookstore?

Blaes: My bookshop first stop is new releases. And then I comb through fiction seeing if there are books that I’ve missed and need to read. Which can take hours. 

Emily: I’m a fiction gal too, likely to poke around first for new releases or a mystery series set somewhere interesting (and preferably half devoted to what everyone is eating and drinking).

Sarah: Broadly speaking, fiction, and precisely speaking, magical realism/fantasy. 

What are three must-read books for summer?

Blaes: I am eager to read “Secret Keeper of Jaipur” by Alka Joshi; “Morningside Heights” by Joshua Henkin; and “With Teeth” by Kristin Arnett.

Emily: Three books I’m excited to read this summer are the thriller “The Other Black Girl” by Zakia Delila Harris, the page-turner “The Siren” by Katherine St. John, and “Olympus, Texas,” a family drama blended with Greek mythology, by Stacey Swann

Sarah: I am hoping to read “The Midnight Bargain” by CL Polk; “The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea” by Maggie Tokuda-Hall; and “Ring Shout” by P. Dejèlí Clark.

What should I tell my friends to get them excited to visit?

Tell them a story — of armchairs draped with readers absorbed by their favorite book; of the smell of coffee and fresh croissants; of conversation drifting in from a sun-dappled patio; of friends enjoying fare (and libations) from our neighbors as they engage in hearty discussion about a new release; of children tucked away in a storybook forest space, captivated by story hour.