In the first week of July, a new bookstore called, “Rebel Heart Books,” will open at 157 W. California Street in the historic 1859 Martin & Zigler Blacksmith Shop building. The Review caught up with co-owners Eileen M.K. Bobek and Natalya Miller to learn more about this exciting new venture. Bobek, a 15-year resident of the Rogue Valley is a writer and a physician; Miller is also a physician who’s lived here for 6 years.
In our digital-everything world, one might ask, “Why open a bookstore?” Eileen responds to the frequently-asked question philosophically, offering, “Brick and mortar bookstores are as important now as they ever were. A bookstore and books in general have been described as sanctuaries, places of refuge, ports in the storm, as both magical and comforting portals to other worlds, safe ways to explore ideas and cultures different from our own, ways to create and anchor communities… and the list goes on. These ideas are not new or original but they’re no less true.”
A favorite quote from American essayist Barry Lopez sums up Eileen and Natalya’s philosophy: The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves.
Eileen notes that, “In our travels, we have found booksellers to be remarkable and generous people who want nothing more than to see another bookstore open and be successful. Jane Almquist from “Treehouse Books” and Sheila Burns from “Bloomsbury Books” in Ashland have been invaluable mentors and advocates in our process.”
As avid readers, both women bring their talents to the store. “I’m an avid reader and a writer, focusing primarily on essays,” says Eileen. Natalya says, “I’m passionate about bringing the physical space of the building back to life, and managing the logistical aspects of the property restoration and maintenance. This is a passion project…we both value books and lifelong learning and want to create something truly special that will enhance Jacksonville.”
In choosing where to open, Eileen says, “We’d been talking about opening a bookstore, specifically in Jacksonville, for a number of years. Jacksonville has a rich history and we’ve both spent a lot of time here. The citizens are very invested in their town… something we were able to witness firsthand over months of attending local meetings and talking to shop owners.”
The business partners had looked at a couple of buildings that weren’t quite right, and ideally envisioned the bookstore on California Street. “Luckily,” Natalya says, “the opportunity to make that happen arose this past February when we purchased the building. We have Jacksonville local Cheryl Rose, and Jill Hamilton and Sally Bell at Windermere real estate to thank for that.”
When asked about their reception so far, Eileen happily reports, “We’ve experienced nothing but support from the local community. Linda Graham from Scheffel’s Toys has graciously shared the names of book reps and sideline vendors. We’ve also received advice from Jo Parker and Ronit Gibb from WillowCreek, Steve Abandonato from Pot Rack, Sandi Whittle from La Boheme, Marge Wall from Country Quilts & Gifts and Patti Kirsch from The Cheesemonger’s Wife, to name just a few.”
Of course, they add, the bookstore would not be possible without the support of their spouses, Miroslav Bobek and Matthew Miller and their respective children. Natalya’s father, Fred Shannon, has been their right hand man and was essential in reinvigorating the building. They also benefitted greatly from the interior and space design expertise of Carmen Whitlock and Nora LaBrocca.
“If you’re wondering about the name, ‘Rebel Heart Books,’” Eileen explains, “We thought a lot about what to call it, came up with many names, and thought about the pioneering spirit of the town. We wanted it to represent the idea that every person has a bit of a rebel in them—someone who wants to do something different or unexpected or against the norm, something that requires taking a leap of faith, something that requires acting on a particular truth and hoping by doing so it will have a lasting impact. That’s where the store mantra comes from, ‘Be brave, Be true, Leave your mark.’ My younger brother, Daniel, is an artist and he created the logo, utilizing the idea that arrows represent a certain force, velocity and direction toward something. As the archer, you have to have a certain amount of strength to pull that arrow toward your heart before releasing it into the world.”
When open, the shop will carry new general, nonfiction and fiction, hardcover and trade paperbacks with a small section of children’s and young adult books. “Because the space is small (625 sq. ft.), we can’t represent every category. We plan on keeping a list of requested titles so we can evaluate gaps in the store’s inventory and adjust for categories that don’t seem to be working,” Natalya says.
In addition, customers will be able to order books that are not in stock and depending on the day and time of the request, ordered books should arrive within 1-2 business days. Eileen adds, “We’ll offer some bestsellers but there is so much out there that we also want to put books in people’s hands that they might not otherwise see or hear about. And, we plan on having a small selection of periodicals.”
In addition, Bobek and Miller are exploring the possibility with local bookseller Andrew Lennert of having a small, curated section of used and rare books, but will not otherwise sell or buy used books. With limited space, they plan to feature one local author every 2 months.
Along with books, Rebel Heart Books will carry gift items specific to and driven by books and quotes. “We love the power of words and a good quote, so the store’s sidelines will reflect that… but the store is first and foremost a bookstore,” concludes Eileen.