Jenny Kinne, the new owner of Cherry Street’s beloved independent bookstore Books & Mortar, started her career selling books out of her parents’ basement and exchanging her favorite paperbacks for Monopoly money. A series of professional adventures, mostly focused on nonprofit development and public policy, led her to Fountain Street Church, Planned Parenthood, Michigan League for Public Policy and eventually life as a business owner. Her love for public policy and community activism is what eventually sparked her passion for owning a progressive, independent bookstore.
How did you end up working at the store?
I sought out Books & Mortar the moment it opened because I had been craving an indie, progressive bookstore. I needed that in Grand Rapids; a space dedicated to inclusivity, learning and creativity. I began working when my friends (and the store’s founders), Christopher and Jonathan, posted a need for part-time help. I answered the call on gut instinct. I was pursuing a graduate degree and I did not have time for a part-time gig. But something called out to me and I needed to try it.
And how did that evolve into owning the place?
Books & Mortar is such a free space. I have learned about customers’ dreams, fears, goals and thoughts more than I ever expected to. When Jonathan and Christopher brought up that they were maybe going to sell the store, I had an automatic and visceral reaction. It was very tough for me to leave my job in public policy advocacy, but I just couldn’t let this chance go.
What is it like being a woman-owned business?
So far, it’s great! There are a lot of supports that have been intentionally constructed in the indie bookstore world for female-identifying owners. The industry is no longer male-dominated, so I have met many female owners who have offered mentorship, which I think is key to any woman’s professional success. I know that I need many advocates in my corner if I want to succeed in this job or any other. I also think it is my job to support and advocate for women who are reaching for their own dreams.
What type of public policy are you most passionate about?
I’ve been passionate about public policy for as long as I can remember. I studied U.S foreign policy in college. After, I trained as a grassroots activist with Planned Parenthood. Learning how to be an advocate for PP in West Michigan is a sure-fire way to develop some thick skin. Learning about national and state health policy at the same time as the Affordable Care Act roll-out was joyous and exhausting. I will forever be an advocate for universal, affordable health care, sex education and coverage of women’s health care and abortion rights.
How do you incorporate that advocacy into the store?
When you walk into Books & Mortar, I hope it’s evident that a community activist works there. The books I stock reflect my values. I am passionate about women’s, LGBTQ-plus and immigrant rights, as well as environmental protection. Consequently, I stock a lot of books on those issues. Since Books & Mortar is an openly progressive bookstore, I hope to keep building upon its mission to become a meeting place for community activists.
How do you hope to inspire change in West Michigan through your work?
I believe that books can change the world. They have certainly changed mine. I can’t imagine life having not read writers like W.E.B. Du Bois, Maya Angelou, Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, and I could go on and on. These people’s experiences and voices have been put down on paper. Books have an amazing power to shift paradigms and break down prejudice and bookstores have the power to harness that energy into community growth.
At the end of the day, I want to create positive change through reading and creating. I hope to do my part to make Grand Rapids more equitable, just and kind by building a bookstore that welcomes everyone, embraces creativity and inspires authentic and rigorous political discussion.