Book lovers in Watertown have a new place to shop for books and sit down to read them at Hearthside Books. The bookstore, which officially opened July 28, offers new books only, and it has several seating places for anyone to come and hang out while reading.
Hearthside Books is owned and operated by St. Cloud native Charlotte Klimek and Michigan native Eric Lamek. The two live in Watertown, and they have been best friends for about six years.
The idea for the book store first came in February when Klimek had a dream that she and Lamek were doing exactly what they are now: running a bookstore together. Lamek liked the idea, and unlike many with dreams, the two worked to make theirs come true after deciding that it was possible.
They decided on books because of Klimek’s passion for reading, as she reads an average of 10 books per month. “It is truly because I love books,” she said. “If I didn’t have to have a Master’s Degree to be a librarian, that is probably what I would be doing.”
Klimek has had several different work experiences, and for the last four years he worked as a bookkeeper for a medical facility, so he knew that he could handle the finances for the business. “I was like ‘Well, you know my schooling is in finance right?’, and it just spiraled really quick from there,” Lamek said. “Her passion met my skills and here we are.”
Shortly after agreeing to try out their business idea, Klimek began doing research into what it would take to start it. After a couple of months, the pair of friends began looking for a building to host their book store and were reached out to by Tricia Rupp, owner of Haven and Home in Watertown, who let them know that she was moving from her space at the time into a new building down the street.
That space is the building located at 229 Lewis Avenue South, and it has existed in the town for more than a century. After originally starting out as a telephone company, it eventually became a dentist’s office for several decades. When Klimek and Lamek first saw the inside of the building, they knew it would be perfect for their book store, and they officially moved into it in June. “We had no expectation of it all happening so quickly,” Klimek said.
With a lot of help from Eric’s father, Steven Law, who is a contractor, they were able to remodel the inside of the building. “It had a lot of good bones, my dad just cleaned it up for us,” Lamek said.
Building a store
The next step in the process was determining what books to stock their store with, which Klimek and Lamek found difficult at first. When they began, they had little knowledge of where to find books or which books to find. They knew that they wanted to stock new books only because there is a used book store in Delano that they did not want to compete with. “I love the idea of having used books but I don’t want to compete with the owner of the Delano store,” Klimek said. “I want to support other businesses, especially independently owned bookstores, so it seemed better to do it this way.”
They quickly found out that publishers will not sell directly to bookstores until they have a proven track record of book sales. Instead, they worked hard to sort through different wholesalers until eventually finding one that offered an opening inventory program.
With the program, the wholesaler provided them with popular titles and a list of new books they could choose from to have in their store. Beyond inventory, the two found there were several little things they needed help with, and they got that help from other businesses in town such as Haven and Home. “We feel very lucky to have ended up in this town with this business community,” Lamek said. “The other businesses have been so supportive of us getting set up here, and that isn’t something that you experience very often in the business world, especially in bigger cities. It’s very much a community here, even among the businesses, and that has been a great experience.”
As the store began to come together, it was given the name Hearthside Books. Klimek said that the store’s name comes from the fact that they want it to be a hearthside for their customers. “It’s all about being cozy, sitting by a fire, and reading a book, so that is what we wanted our bookstore to feel like,” she said. “We wanted it to be a place where people can come and sit, hangout, get a free cup of coffee, and read your book.” Lamek agreed. “It was really important to us that we had a space that felt inviting and that people could come to spend time in,” he said. “We want people to come here and read, not just shop for books.” He also said that they are happy to be able to provide a place like Hearthside Books to Watertown. “I think it all comes back to really wanting to tap into that sense of community,” he said. “It is something that we like being a part of, and it is something that we wanted to add to.”
“We want to add to this community, and there is nobody that doesn’t read in some form,” he added. “It is something that ties us all together, and it’s how we learn and grow as a community and as a species. Since it’s not already here, being able to provide that was a sensible fit.” The store began providing that hearthside for the town July 28 as the 2023 Rails to Trails Festival began. Klimek said that it was their hope to open when the festival started because of the traffic it could bring to them. “We wanted the exposure since everyone is in town, and it went really well,” she said. “It was funny because during the parade you could see the people going down the road and notice that this is a bookstore and get excited.”
Since then, advertising for the store has been mostly word of mouth. Hearthside Books is a member of the Watertown Chamber of Commerce and it does have Instagram and Face‐ book pages, but its customers have been spreading the word faster than the internet has. “There are days where we have got dozens of people in here which is crazy because we are not a very big town, so the fact that people are finding us already is awesome,” Klimek said.
Because the prices of new books are set by the publishers, any book purchased at Hearthside Books will cost the same as it would anywhere else. Klimek said that there have already been customers who
have committed to ordering their books solely through their store. “The thing about being independent in a small town is that we can curate our selection to our customers, whereas big box stores really can’t,” she said.
A reading community
With the store having been open for a little more than a month, Klimek and Lamek are now looking forward to their grand opening, which they expect to take place in the early fall. Before that can happen, they have to finish some remodeling in the back half of their store.
Currently, they are preparing to finish a quiet reading room and a conference room that will complete the remodel of their space. Once it is finished, they plan to host much more than just a grand opening, as they want their store to become a spot for youth to hangout and read. “We really hope that it will be a cool hangout space for kids to come with their friends and maybe talk about books,” Lamek said. The store currently has a stuffed mascot, HB Fox, that they hide for kids to find and receive a sticker.
Hearthside Books will also look to host other gatherings like Dungeons and Dragons role-playing sessions, board game nights, and storytimes for mothers. Eventually, Lamek and Klimek hope to host authors for book signings in the conference room.
They also hope to collaborate with other businesses in town on things like a reading challenge where kids could complete reading tasks in exchange for vouchers to redeem for small items at other businesses.
They currently have such a partnership with Legends on Main where kids can complete challenges in exchange for Italian ice vouchers. “I’m all for collaboration between businesses because it is all about supporting the other businesses in town,” Klimek said. “I don’t want to see empty buildings, we are too small of a town to be seeing that.”
The pair of friends also said they are happy to send customers to other stores if they are ever asked for an item that another local business might have. Ultimately, Klimek and Lamek have big plans to try and make their store a staple in Watertown, however, they still find it hard to believe that they are business owners. “If you had told me in January that I would be owning a bookstore by the end of the year, I would have laughed,” Klimek said. “I probably would have still been at Mario’s cooking pasta and not even thinking about it.” Lamek agreed. “It’s really weird to think that all of this happened because one day Charlotte mentioned that she had a dream,” he said.