Local businesses are what enrich and help preserve the culture of our communities. You can find so many ways to get involved and support your local businesses, even in simple ways such as opting to buy coffee locally rather than from a chain. The benefits of this include supporting someone’s livelihood, endorsing locally made and ethically sourced items and helping build a stronger and more successful community. Kiren Valjee is a local business owner who founded Third House Books & Coffee, and is helping his community grow by offering the invaluable benefit of having access to books of those voices who are not often heard – including marginalized voices and local authors. We sat down with him to learn more about how he got started and why shopping local is so important.
HC UFL: When did you come up for the idea for Third House Books & Coffee, why did you start it?
Valjee: I came up with the idea over the course of 2015. It seemed strange that we didn’t have more bookstores in Gainesville, and we didn’t have a general bookstore downtown. So, instead of waiting around for someone else to do it, I decided I’d do it. Gainesville needed one and it deserves one.
HC UFL: When did you start it? Was it exciting or hard, how did you feel?
Valjee: We opened in October of 2016. It was extremely exciting but also very difficult. I was the only one working the counter full-time so I was here all day, six days a week. I had a few volunteers that would come in now and then to give me a break, but it was mostly on me. In addition, I had my bar tending job still. I couldn’t afford to leave that job; it is how I paid my bills. That first year I was working around 75-80 hours a week. So as exciting as it was to be running a new bookstore, I was exhausted and completely stressed out to the max. I later eased up on my hours at the bar and that helped a little, and I took on two full time volunteers who were interested in becoming owners. They saved my life. Heather eventually became a co-owner just last year.
HC UFL: Why did you choose to open in Gainesville?
Valjee: Well, I was already living here. I had been here since 2008 and had really come to love this place. I wanted to help improve it. I went to school (both undergraduate and graduate school) for English Literature, so it made sense.
HC UFL: What are your favorite parts about owning a bookstore?
Valjee: Community interaction. I like providing a comfy, safe space for our patrons. A place they can call their third home (thus Third House Books). Event planning (music and author readings) is fun as well.
HC UFL: Do you have a lot of regular visitors or close relationships with local businesses?
Valjee: We do. I wish we had more though! We sell coffee from a local roaster, Strongtree Coffee Roasters. They’ve been really good to us and we get so many compliments on our pour over and cold brew. For a while we did live music shows with a local sound company Supermoon Sound. If you need live or recorded sound, they’re the ones to use. And we’ve just started a relationship with Cyprus & Grove Brewing for events in which we need a bigger space to use.
HC UFL: What is your favorite book? What are some of the coolest books you have in your store?
Valjee: One of my favorite books of all time is “Disgrace” by J. M. Coetzee. He’s a South African writer and I can read that book over and over again, and I find something new in it. At the store we pride ourselves on focusing on books written by marginalized voices. So we have a lot of women of color authors. In addition, some really talented local authors grace our shelves as well.
HC UFL: What is your opinion on recent technological advancements (like tablets, e-books, etc.)? Do you think it influences your business?
Valjee: I have no problem with them. I think there is a place for tablets and e-books; they can be super convenient for traveling or a day at the beach. The think people who buy books always will, so I’m not afraid of losing customers to technology. And they tend to pass that love on to friends and family. Books aren’t going anywhere.
HC UFL: Why do you think bookstores are important for the community, especially as local small businesses?
Valjee: They are community hubs. They are sanctuaries, and places of education. They are cultural exchange spaces, art spaces [and] gathering places. They are places of growth and that is something we can never do without.
HC UFL: Is there anything you want readers to know about Third House Books & Coffee?
Valjee: We are still really struggling to keep the doors open. So come in and buy a book, order a book, attend our events. Just come hang out and help us help you and our community. Most of our events are free and open to the public so we rely on book sales to keep doing them. And tell your friends and family about us. Word of mouth is the best way to know about us. We need you!
Third House Books & Coffee is an amazing local business that could use a lot of love. The store has an incredible mission and is continuing to help provide a platform for marginalized and local voices. Sometimes, there is nothing better than an amazing book that we can lose all track of time immersing ourselves in. Books are crucial to the human experience and understanding each other’s stories. Show your love for books, coffee and Gainesville and stop by to study, shop or relax at Third House Books & Coffee. We love you, Gainesville.