The clock is ticking and the situation dire, Published Page Bookshop owner Jim Hart said on Tuesday.
“We’re not on the courthouse steps yet,” Hart said. “But I think we’re probably going to have to do something by the end of November or [our lienholder] is absolutely going to put the hammer down.”
Although he’s otherwise ever cheerful, it’s obvious that it pains Hart to ask for help. The bookstore, and the historic building it resides in on the downtown square, however, are worth fighting for to save, Hart contends.
In the two and a half years since Hart purchased the building at 10 E. Chambers St. and opened Cleburne’s only bookstore business has steadily grown to the point of being quite good now, he said.
“We’re not generating enough money to get rich or anything but we’re generating enough to pay bills,” Hart said. “It took us a long time before we got there, but we also still have a big backlog of things we’ve got to carry.”
In hopes of conquering those hurdles Hart and others created a GoFundMe page titled “The Published Page: Saving an Iconic Bookstore.” The page is at gofundme.com/f/save-the-published-page-bookshop and is also accessible on the Published Page’s Facebook page.
Those hurdles are threefold: back taxes, mortgage and needed repairs.
“We’ve been negotiating on the mortgage to get it refinanced with a hard money lender,” Hart said. “I’d like to be able to reduce the amount that I have to borrow. We also have some things that still need to be done. The roof needs work and the add-on part in the back of the building is a separate roof and that’s leaking. I also want to finish out the upstairs so I can lease that out. That, plus the bookstore, should be enough to make things go smoothly but it’s just been tight trying to get over this bump.”
Buying the building, fixing it up and then setting up shop took longer than expected, Hart said, during which much of the time he carried on with no income.
He gets it, Hart said, that some would argue it’s not the public’s responsibility to help a business in need.
“I’ve had people say, ‘Well, I’d like to have somebody else pay my mortgage,’” Hart said. “Business is a little different. My feeling when we came to Cleburne is that it’s not like buying a house that you live in. What we did was bring something to Cleburne that wasn’t here, and I really think that we’ve added value to the community.”
Not many bookstores like Published Page exist anymore, Hart said.
“A lot of little towns have bookstores, but few have something like what we are,” Hart said. “Even in larger towns, Denton has [Recycled Books Records CDs], which is bigger than us, but we’ll get there. There’s nothing in Fort Worth like this. The closest thing is Barber’s Bookstore, which is nowhere near as nice, or big, as it used to be.”
In his nearly three years in Cleburne, Hart said he’s seen activity increase downtown, a change he believes his store played a role in.
“I don’t know that something wouldn’t have happened if we had not come here,” Hart said. “But I think maybe the coffee shop next door to us wouldn’t be here. I don’t know if Ms. Minnie’s Mercantile would be here because she came and talked to us before she opened. I think the fact that when we came in in summer 2017 this square looked pretty bleak and I think the fact that we came in and turned this building around helped. Now, Tom Burkett was already doing what he was doing on Henderson Street with [Songbird Live] and Fernando [Rodriguez] already had Apos Boots opened before we got here. We wouldn’t have come here if they hadn’t been doing what they were doing. And you’ve seen what Casey Waits has done with Loaf’N Dog and his other restaurants since.”
Those and other factors working together have gone a long way toward transforming downtown from dormant to vibrant, Hart said.
“And I do think the bookstore has been part of that,” Hart said. “What we add is something that is unique to Cleburne. We will never bring the number of outside visitors that a place like Plaza Theatre does. But what we will do is bring people. Already we have 10 to 20 who drive to Cleburne specifically to visit the bookstore, and that number has been growing. I have two people coming by on Monday who came from California. Now they’re not specifically coming from California to see us, but they’re making a side trip of about 50 miles to come to see us while they’re in Texas.
“And those people who come from out of town, a lot of them eat here, look around, shop other places.”
The more cultural and/or entertainment features a town has, the easier it becomes to attract other businesses, new residents and additional tourism, Hart said.
“Just talk to executives,” Hart said. “When they’re considering a city for relocation or opening a new company they want to know what kind of attractions are there. Cleburne has a bunch of those. We have local museums, a couple of which are unusual and unique. The Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum and the Gone With The Wind Museum are not something that other towns are going to have. Plaza, a lot of towns have community theater, but between the Dudley Hall and the professionalism of that group there’s no one else in the region, except maybe the professional groups in Fort Worth and Dallas, who have anything comparable.”
Hart said the Published Page brings something similar to the uniqueness offered by CTOM, Gone With The Wind and Plaza.
“There are a few specialty shop bookstores still around that are high-end only,” Hart said. “That’s first editions, signed copies, things like that. We have things like that for the true collectors. But I wanted a shop where kids and families come in and have access to the books.
“Right now we have about 40,000 books on the shelves. By the time we finish that number will be around 100,000 not to mention several thousand DVDs and CDs.”
The goal is lofty, $75,000.
“We could do with a little less,” Hart said. “But after taxes and repairs, which we’re looking about $30,000 to $40,000 there, anything over would be used to pay down principal so we could get a smaller payment on our loan.”
A September fundraiser organized by the Published Page Writer’s Group helped but more is needed Hart said. Should the GoFundMe campaign succeed Hart plans to look into city, state and federal grants to help restore his building, which dates to 1880.
“Truly, I hate asking anyone for money,” Hart said. “But I think this building, given its history, deserves to be saved and used again. And I think the bookstore brings something unique to Cleburne and is helping to bring downtown back.”
Worst case scenario, the bookstore goes away and whoever winds up with the building gets about six truckloads of books.
“I don’t have anywhere to put them,” Hart said.