|Chris Crawley and Yolanda Harrison, not to be confused with Dr. Yulanda Harrison from Osceola, have taken over the management of That Bookstore In Blytheville, an opportunity Crawley, who spent his childhood in the store, said he had been looking for, for more than three decades.|
"All of this started with my relationship with Mary Gay Shipley. Mary Gay has been like my big sister for about 30 years. I grew up here. I was born here, lived here for my formative years, and I went to high school here in Arkansas. So I kind of got the bug years ago watching Mary Gay," Crawley said. "I used to use this place as a way to wet my appetite--a way to be around people who were interested in literary matters and books. So this was my place, this was like my playground. I would read whole books while in the store, and that's the way it was for me as a child many years ago."
Crawley moved away after high school, living in Wisconsin and California before returning to his home just over a year ago. Once back, Crawley began to look for his next venture.
"I said to Mary Gay one day that I was thinking about staying around Blytheville and I'm trying to figure out what it is that I'm going to do--and I really, really loved this bookstore. She said she was in the middle of negotiating a sale, which was while she was negotiating with Grant. So at that time it wasn't even a done deal. So my conversation quickly shifted to if they're ready to do it, maybe there's some way I can help. So I was introduced to Grant, and we got along famously. We even started working together and did a project in February based around Martin Luther King's birthday--and that's kind of how it started. My desire to see it all come to fruition was happening along the way," Crawley said.
During this time Crawley had been looking for a way to get his partner, Harrison, to move to Blytheville from Tulsa, Okla., to be with him. Crawley said he felt that Blytheville "had some real possibilities--was coming a live again", and he parlayed that excitement, along with the chance to own TBIB, into an opportunity to bring in Harrison.
Harrison said she was excited about the idea of owning an independent bookstore, and after visiting TBIB, decided the business was very fitting for she and Crawley and was ready to give it a try.
"The first day that I visited, Mary Gay arranged for us to have lunch," Harrison said. "We discussed the bookstore and the legacy--and I was not privy to That Bookstore In Blytheville before that. So I did my due diligence and I read up on the store. And she was still so passionate about the store and that passion was infectious. Once I came in the space it was just so welcoming."
When they felt the timing was right, the couple approached current owner Grant Hill and explained they would be interested in buying the shop if he ever wanted to sell. As luck would have it, Hill was looking to sell and negotiations began. Although relatively brief, negotiations were earnest, according to Crawley, and always in the spirit of the bookstore being the most important thing.
"We believed that that legacy was something that was valuable, not just to us, but to Blytheville and to Mississippi County and to the state of Arkansas and actually, to the nation," Crawley said.
Crawley and Harrison are now managing the bookstore, and will be having a grand re-opening in January, though a specific date hasn't been set.
Harrison said she plans to have two events, one of which catering to the youth and the other aimed more towards adults.