Oct 02, 2019 03:09PM
● By Debbie Hall
Despite closures of independent and chain bookstores and the predictions of the end of printed books, there is a change as printed words in books still resonate. The Writer’s Block has taken the best elements and reinvented the rest as it opens a literary world in downtown Las Vegas.
The gleaming white building, part of The Lucy cultural center, beckons with promises of coffee, pastries, an artificial bird sanctuary, a live rabbit, and so many books! Local authors, reissued classic titles, obscure finds, and the latest fill the shelves.
Co-owned by married couple Drew Cohen and Scott Seeley, along with Beverly Rogers, the business is designed around the couple’s love of books.
“We have both been lifelong readers, and I don’t think I am alone, generationally [as a millennial], speaking in feeling that books can offer something you can’t do digitally,” says Cohen. “I still think it is easier and more pleasurable to read a print book. Navigating a print book is cognitively more satisfying. I can find my place and mark up a book, which is more tactile. I believe people crave that today now that things are becoming increasingly digital.”
People who are interested in reading books tend to be interested in slowing down while holding and touching something. Another important aspect is that the reading experience circumscribes and is separate from reading done digitally to communicate professionally or socially.
“When you read a book, it won’t be interrupted by a pop-up notification,” Cohen laughs.
Cohen enjoys backlist releases that remain favorites throughout time. He has a passion for classic literature, and “because Vegas doesn’t have the same saturation in the bookselling market like New York City, it is so important to have those classics on the shelves, which are some of our best sellers.” Some of the authors include Kurt Vonnegut and Albert Camus, and many young readers want to begin their reading journey with classic books by well-known authors.
All the books are new, even reissued titles. More bargain titles will be available; they’re also new, but are being liquidated by the publisher, so they can be discounted.
New board games, gel pens, glasses, stationery, fountain pens, and gift items are also scattered around the store for purchase. Unique products that are best sellers include statutes based on Hieronymus Bosch medieval allegorist paintings. Another hit with customers are 4D anatomy models of animal figurines that display the inside of their bodies.
Cohen and Seeley developed The Writer’s Block as a place they would want to shop and spend time. Their first store, on Fremont Street, offered only a third of the space, which limited their vision. One of the most demanded features asked by customers was to sell coffee. The size of the new building as a blank slate when they entered the project with Rogers, along with the fact it was already zoned for food service, allowed them the opportunity to offer this component.
“We are fortunate to collaborate with Michelle Watts as our coffee shop manager, and she has taken enormous responsibility designing the menu and taking care of the business,” says Cohen. Pastries from wholesalers and Rooster Boy are also offered, and soon, bird-shaped cookies will be available.
As for the bird theme, it isn’t a literary reference, and they’re not bird people. They just think artificial birds look cool, and the theme organically developed, along with an indoor/outdoor tree concept to match. Now, all the birds are named for “autobiographies”, and people can “adopt” them. The checkout is “enclosed” in a 16-foot-tall birdcage.
Cohen and Seeley are cat people, but because some customers have allergies along with other concerns, the store pet is The Baron, a rabbit rescued from a shelter. Most people don’t interact with rabbits daily, so the rabbit offers the right amount of interesting and dramatic (and is contained).
Giving back to the community, free creative writing classes for children are part of its terrain with project-based workshops for ages 5 through 8. During the school year, the shop fills during weekends with creative young minds who leave with a book, movie, or CD they created. Writing becomes tangible for them with a finished project. Free field trips for second to fifth grades students to create and take home picture books are also offered.
Book clubs and signings are also part of the culture, as well as a partnership with the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Check the website and Facebook page (FB.COM/THEWRITERSBLOCKLV) for upcoming events.
Seeley used his expertise to design the space with green, floating offices. Parking is available behind the building and surrounding streets (free parking on Bonneville Avenue). While the original location was in the heart of downtown, this building is more accessible and still part of downtown but connected with the residents and other surrounding businesses.
Growing up in suburban New York, minutes from an independent bookstore, Cohen loved to spend time there but never planned to make it his path in life. His husband, Seeley, was working in literary non-for-profits with a design, retail, and educational background. It was through the Downtown Project that they pitched their idea of a combination bookstore and center for children to learn about books.
“People in our demographics are leaving New York City and Los Angeles to medium-sized cities that have a better standard of living and more opportunity. We have been here for six years, and we love it here. It is home,” Cohen says. “It is weirdly eccentric but has a clear vision of how people should be treated and what it is about.”
The digital world could be considered all-encompassing or invasive. But printed words in books still resonate as The Writer’s Block creates a new literary world.