Jan 18, 2024 4:20 PM

Baier opens Bent Oak Books

Posted Jan 18, 2024 4:20 PM
<b>Bent Oak Books owner Danette Baier wanted to have a bookstore that had a seating area for patrons to browse their books before deciding to buy and enjoy a cup of tea and good company. Bent Oak Books is located at 619 Seventh St. in Fort Madison. Photo/John Lovretta</b>
Bent Oak Books owner Danette Baier wanted to have a bookstore that had a seating area for patrons to browse their books before deciding to buy and enjoy a cup of tea and good company. Bent Oak Books is located at 619 Seventh St. in Fort Madison. Photo/John Lovretta

By Chris Faulkner

Danette Baier has long wanted to own a business in downtown Fort Madison, her hometown.

But she also wanted to be a stay-at-mom, which she has been to her six children — five daughters and a son — these past 22 years.

But the youngest, 11, is old enough that Baier decided it was time to open a store, and she knew what type it would be.

“I noticed a need, because we don’t have a bookstore anymore, and I love books,” Baier said.

So she opened Bent Oak Books at 619 Seventh St. on Friday, Dec. 15.

She sells new and used books, some games, and gift items and is open six days a week, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The draw to her location was, “I love the downtown buildings,” Baier said. “I love the architecture.”

Her first job was at 14 at Taylor and Bryan’s Ice Cream shop downtown.

“I fell in love with the regulars each day,” Baier said. 

“Seeing the same people and chatting with them.” She babysat the children of the Eisentraut family, which ran the Fox Theatre, and she got to know the Young family of Dana Bushong Jewelers, so she saw a tie between family and small-town businesses.

Baier said the store will open Thursday nights for any book clubs that want to meet. 

She will have story time at 11 a.m. on Mondays and Fridays for preschool and home school families.

The store will only be open on Sundays when the cruise line ships make a weekend docking in Fort Madison.

The name of her store comes from a cabin owned by her in-laws, Jim and Linda Baier — Bent Oak Lodge. It’s where her husband Jamie proposed to her.

“We spent a ton of time there with his parents while dating,” Baier said. “It’s a way to include them and all those wonderful memories.”

She and her husband purchased the building, and there is an upstairs apartment.

“It’s not a large building,” Baier said, “but I love the tin ceiling and the tin walls and the light coming in. When I walked through this building, I knew this was the time, and we had to try to make this work.”

All along, she said, she wanted to have the store within a block of Swed & Co. coffee shop, “because I feel coffee and books go well together,” Baier said.

Someone’s Library

Bent Oak Books looks more like a home library, and that’s why she has a leather couch and chairs.

“I love bookstores where there are rows upon rows and rows, and they’re amazing and you’re weaving through books,” Baier said. “Those are so fun.

“But I knew I only had so much space, and my goal was to get as many books as I could without getting overcrowded; because I really wanted to provide a seating space, a comfortable place where people would sit down, flip through their book, chat with their friend, have a cup of tea.”

Most of the new books come from Ingram Publishing, Baier said, “and that was suggested to me by Bonnie (Howard),” who ran the Book Mark in Fort Madison for many years. But when Howard wanted to step down from the business, she didn’t find any takers.

“She was wonderful enough about a year ago to sit down with me and let me ask what I’m sure were a lot of stupid questions,” Baier said. “I loved stopping in there. I love to give books as gifts. I’m hopefully going to be able to provide that.”

She plans on offering a variety of genres “with the idea that I will intentionally cater to what people are asking for,” she said.

Baier has a notebook up front for suggestions. “I’m encouraging my customers to put down genres and authors they’re hoping to see, and I’ll consider that when I put my orders in,” she said.

As for her preferences, “I probably like suspense and mysteries the best and non-fiction,” Baier said. She added she doesn’t have a favorite author.

Most of the used books have been donated, and “I anticipate I’ll be looking at sales, estates sales and going that route to keep them stocked,” Baier said.

“A lot came from our personal library, my mother- and father-in-law’s personal library, and friends have donated handfuls of books here and there.”

But what about Amazon and the easy online access for prospective customers?

“We’ve bought books on Amazon. We’ve done that a lot,” she said. 

“But my favorite is going to small bookstores and looking in person. I can spend hours in a bookstore, touching the pages, looking at the different covers.” Baier wanted to offer that experience here.

“I don’t think I’m competing with Amazon, because if you’re going to buy from Amazon, you’re going to buy from Amazon, and that’s OK,” she said. 

“But maybe you’ll come here for a different vibe, and you’ll want to look around and see the different options.”

Baier said her store is “something different. You come to a small, independent bookstore, you’re looking for something different.”

Baier will offer a small selection of games, with Quirkle and Wings among the choices at her stores.

In addition, “My favorite bookstores always have a little section where we provide gifts. We have finger puppets, stuffed animals, and little bunny blankets as a gift for a shower.”

Her daughters recommended she has an area for bath bombs and other beauty products. Her son, Chris, said she should get manga books.

Baier said she had thought she would offer magazines, but, “My space is only so big, so as I started to get my inventory in, I decided to start with books, re-evaluate in a month or so, and if I have a lot of interest in magazines, I’ll find a spot for them.”