Wordsworth Books & Co. in Little Rock’s Heights neighborhood has new owners.
Lia Lent and Tom McGowan, both of Little Rock, have bought the much-loved, long-lived independent bookstore from Jean Cazort, whose family bought the bookstore in 1993 from Kari Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt had owned the store for a number of years.
Lent, who has a background in nonprofit management, and McGowan, a lawyer, took over June 1. “We’re going to build on the great tradition that Jean and her ex, David Cockcroft, built,” McGowan said, referring to Cazort’s ex-husband and business partner.
Lent will be managing partner while McGowan will continue the practice of law.
“We’re still in a learning curve,” he said. “Both of us have some family history with bookselling, so we’re hoping that serves us well. Lia’s grandparents and my parents both had bookstores at one point our lives.”
In addition, Lent is married to Joe Fox, owner of Community Bakery in downtown Little Rock.
McGowan said he and Lent were looking to build up the inventory of books and planned to have more events.
He had heard that Cazort was interested in selling the bookstore, at 5920 R St., and approached her in January, McGowan said. The terms of the sale prohibit him from disclosing the purchase price, he said.
Cazort will continue to work part time in the store.
“Joe and Lia are dear friends of mine,” McGowan said. “Our children grew up together. We lived around the corner for years and years. We’re hoping Joe’s retail experience rubs off on both of us.”
Wordsworth is consistently recognized as one of the great independent bookstores in the country, and independent bookstores have fared better in the current retail climate, despite the inroads of Amazon, than many other retailers.
“We know it’s got a great following. We’re just hoping to build on it,” McGowan said, adding, “I’ve been struck by how many people stop in and say they’re from Texarkana or Morrilton and say they always stop in when they’re in town.”
A New Name
The store is, however, getting a new name, though it’s only slightly different: Wordsworth Bookstore, which, Lent agreed, was what most people called it anyway.
In addition to expanding the book inventory, she and McGowan will restructure it somewhat inside. And it’s now carrying all the newspapers Fox carries at Community Bakery.
Lent has visited 10 independent bookstores in the last month, five in the Bay Area and five in St. Louis. “They’ve all said having events in your store is key,” she said. And Wordsworth wants to continue and build its relationships with book clubs.
“It’s really neat that there’s quite a large reading community here of people who are reading and sharing and talking about books,” Lent said. “People who come into the bookstore want to talk about books, books they’ve read, books they’re going to read, books they’d like to hear about, what are other people reading.
“Building a community of readers is something we want to build on because it’s here and it’s vibrant.”
Lent said Wordsworth will also be surveying customers to find out what they’re seeking in a bookstore.
And she learned something interesting in her bookstore tour: “Wordsworth is selling more hardcover books than any of them and features them more, which means that Little Rock readers want books when they come out. They want things that are new, hot off the press in ways that I didn’t see in other cities.”
Lent and McGowan are planning a September event to formally recognize the new ownership.