Rome Capitol Theatre’s Assistant Director of Operations Julie Whittemore is about to embark on a new chapter.
While recently noticing the hustle and bustle that was beginning to build downtown with the Capitol Theatre and Cinema Capitol entertainment offerings, children attending music and dance lessons nearby, art exhibits, restaurants and cafes, she wanted to become part of this thriving arts community.
Combining both her passion for silent films and books, Whittemore has decided to open the Keaton & Lloyd Book Shop in the downtown arts district, named for two comedians from the Silent Film Era.
“I began volunteering for the Capitol Theatre when I was in high school. At the time, I obviously loved the theater, but the neighborhood was somewhat dismal,” said Whittemore. “I watched retailers and restaurants move in, and move out just as quickly. But over the past several years, I have worked each and every day downtown. I am amazed.”
She said, “We now have several music studios, dozens of studio artists who come here as part of the Rome Art Association, a wide array of movies and live performances, outdoor arts classes, and more. They are successful and there is demand. People come from long distances to take part. I really believe Rome has found its niche as an arts city.”
While so many different art forms are beginning to be represented in the Downtown Arts District, Whittemore said she recognized one thing was still missing — a place where local authors could come give readings and lectures to help support their work.
The new shop owner said she also wants to offer a “local” shopping option of new and used books, as well as goods and other book-related merchandise. Whittemore said she can now release the location of the shop — which is the former Brenda’s Natural Foods, right next door to the Capitol. The shop will also be stocked with a well-curated selection of bookish items “suitable for gifting and self-indulgence.” As a social enterprise, several items offered in the store will be made locally and, down the road, Whittemore said she hopes to host complimentary programs such as poetry readings and open mic nights.
“We have organizations dedicated to every other medium of art, but there are hundreds of incredible authors right here in the Mohawk Valley,” Whittemore said. “I want to offer a place for their work to be exhibited. I also want to provide a resource for people who would prefer to buy locally, rather than go out of town or buy books online. In fact, many people do not have cars or internet access, so it’s the only option they have. I want there to be a retailer nearby that offers high-quality goods at reasonable prices, and where friends can both meet for a good time and stimulate the local economy.”
As for possible future programming, “I think it will take a little while to determine exactly what types of programs work, but I love the idea of bringing authors in to discuss their own projects and do book signings,” she said. “I also look forward to working with organizations like the Capitol and Jervis Public Library, which has already been very supportive, to present joint programs in some capacity.”
Whittemore announced her new business venture first on social media and so far the response from community members has been more than she had hoped for, she said.
“As soon as I made the first post about my shop on Facebook, I got an incredible response. People are clamoring for a book shop in Rome and I am really excited to be the one to give it to them,” said Whittemore. “People are even offering to pitch in and help. I am getting order requests over social media and requests for interviews about my opening.”
After so many years of volunteering, then working, for the Capitol Theatre, Whittemore wanted to honor her growing love of film history, and she said it just felt natural to give her book shop a silent film theme.
“Giving the shop a film theme allows me to merge my two passions into one thrilling venture,” she smiled.
Several people have asked so far if Keaton & Lloyd will feature a cafe, but Whittemore said she just doesn’t know yet.
“I am considering having hot beverages and perhaps pastries made in Central New York available for purchase, but I still have a lot to figure out in the next couple of months,” she said. “Food and drink might be something better to do down the road.”
As for books, “I will offer everything from Manga to presidential history. The environment will be rather mature, but I will offer a unique selection of books for children. I believe my children’s section will be a great opportunity for me to infuse work by CNY authors since there are so many that enjoy publishing material for kids.”
For those who prefer digital books, Whittemore has garnered a relationship with Hummingbird Digital Media.
“Users can download an app called My Must Reads, select Keaton & Lloyd Bookshop as their local shore, and download e-books and audiobooks,” she said. “A portion of the sale comes to the store and the user has access to digital content immediately.”
As Whittemore has begun to receive boxes of books to fill her new shop, she said she’s also been excited to see deliveries of all the other “bookish” items that will be available for purchase.
“While my book stock develops, I have already received many of the other products I plan to carry,” said the shop owner. “These include bookish socks from the company Socksmith, greeting cards and stickers made by the Syracuse Cultural Workers, a variety of literature-inspired puzzles, and locally-made candles.”
If everything goes as planned, Whittemore said she plans to open her business the third week of October.
In honor of her love for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Whittemore will also carry Harry Potter books, backpacks, notebooks, mugs and puzzles.
“I have gotten the expected, ‘Why books? That won’t be profitable,’ many times over. Having lived in the budding Arts District for several years now, I can honestly say I am amazed at our success,” Whittemore said. “Our community is special in all the right ways, and I feel the love. We have film, we have studio arts, we have performing arts...now it’s time for the literary arts to shine.”
To check out the latest developments of Keaton & Lloyd Book Shop, go to https://www.facebook.com/keatonandlloyd/. For a digital selection of books, where proceeds will go toward Keaton & Lloyd, order at: https://keatonandlloyd.mymustreads.com.