HASTINGS — A best seller in Hastings apparently has reached its final chapter.
Prairie Books & Gifts said in a post to its Facebook page Feb. 11 that it will be closing its doors after nearly 43 years in Hastings. Owner Jane Tushaus, 75, announced in the statement "the closing of our family's legacy and pride and joy, Prairie Books and Gifts."
No reason was given or final closing date disclosed, though a hint in the message suggested it may have been related to slumping sales in a changing market.
"But do not despair," the post said. "This is not the end of our story, merely the ending of another chapter and we look forward to a future where independent bookstores will thrive and succeed."
Tushaus expounded on her decision to close the store. Business was ironically popping on the afternoon, most likely because of ongoing advertised discounts linked to the pending closure.
"I guess I just thought, 'Maybe it's time,'" Tushaus said. "Hastings and the downtown area here is not the draw it was at one time. I could see the traffic not being where it had been. Mostly, it was because of my age and the fact that I've done it for so long."
No final date has been set for closure, though April and May are possibilities.
"I'm not sure how long it takes because I've never closed a store before," Tushaus said. "I'm trying to work around my kids, when they are able to come back and help out, because closing is a big thing and a lot of work."
Jane and her husband, Bernie, who died in October of 2015, purchased the small bookstore in Hastings, founded by Emma Watkins sometime around 1942, from Si and Margaret Binderup in 1976. Soon thereafter they acquired a second store, Shamrock Books, with the hope of combining the two stores at some point.
That time came in 1979, when the store front in the 600 block of W. Second Street became available. It was during their consolidation of the two stores that a gas leak in a nearby clothing store caused an explosion that destroyed three downtown businesses and shattered windows within a three-block radius.
"It blew the windows out of our bookshop," Tushaus said. "It was just a horrid mess. They had the National Guard here and we were closed for a couple weeks at least."
In 1993, the couple added a second location inside the Imperial Mall at the invitation of new mall owner Tom Lauvetz. They kept their downtown store open and operated the two stores until 1985, when they decided to expand the mall store with inventory purchased from The Gift House, changing the name to Prairie Books & Gifts.
After Lauvetz sold the mall to non-local owners in 1995, it began to decline in popularity. The arrival of Walmart — coupled with rising rent costs — drove many businesses to relocate to be nearer to the popular store. That's when they decided to return their store to the now-revitalized downtown area.
At the invitation of Ira Rhoades, they moved into the current location at 641 W. Second Street in April 1999. Following multiple renovations, the space became the permanent location for the store through present.
"There were just all kind of things going on down here," Tushaus said. "Bob's Cards & Gifts, The Brass Buckle, J.C. Penney, Montgomery Wards ... Woolworths had a lunch counter. There was just so much for people to come down for. It was really exciting."
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All of the couples' four children — Robyn, Laurie, Michael and Michelle — spent time working in the store in some capacity. Michael, a filmmaker, won three Emmy Awards by shooting commercials for it.
But it was Dickens, a double yellow Amazon parrot, that became perhaps the store's biggest star, Jane Tushaus said. Born on May 21, the same birth date as Tushaus' daughter, Michelle, the bird who will soon turn 20, has become a community favorite through the years, drawing people in just to hear him speak.
"He's probably one of our main characters," Tushaus said. "After we moved downtown, I went over to Murray's Animal World and was trying to decide what kind of bird to get to put in the store. We didn't know if he would talk — they can't guarantee you anything — but over the years, we've have parents, grandparents, kids, and just all kind of people come in just to talk to Dickens."
An avid reader herself, Tushaus has thoroughly enjoyed surrounding herself with such an array of different books, or "friends," as she calls them. Dull moments in the store have been few and far between, she said.
"Books are exciting," she said. "There are always new books coming out, always a new best seller list, and always a new author. I think probably the highlight was all the autographing we had."
Famous authors who have signed books in the store include: Legendary football coach Tom Osborne, astronaut Clayton Anderson, and children's author Jan Brett.
Though there has been talk of family members possibly taking over the business, none has committed to the proposition, Jane Tushaus said. Nor has anyone offered to buy the business.
"Everybody has commitments," she said. "Some of my family was thinking about possibility at some point maybe doing a bookstore, but we don't have any plans yet, per se. There's a lot of interest in that because it's been part of their lives, too.
"I think they know their mom has kind of reached a point in her life where she probably can't do it forever. It's harder to find help now and there are a lot of things to consider. I think they're very proud of what Bernie and I did all of these years and appreciative of what they have learned and become because they had the opportunity to have parents who had a bookstore they got to be part of."
In today's internet-charged business climate, she wonders if maintaining an independent bookstore is even viable at this point.
"We've seen so much change," she said. "From being a very personable, locally owned type thing going into the corporate (model) and bigger stores, then online. It seems like things always change, but how it's going to change I don't know.
"I never would have predicted online because I didn't know much about online until it happened. It's something you have to think about and wonder what the potential is and how things are going to continue to go."
The thought of saying goodbye to her daily routine of meeting, greeting and assisting customers is sad and unsettling, she said. Nevertheless, she imagines she'll have more free time to pursue some of her long-neglected hobbies, which include quilting, sewing, and knitting.
"I will have to find a new routine," she said. "It was just a very, very pleasant occupation. I enjoyed every minute of it."