With a shop dog and a liquor license, Dog-Eared Books opens Monday. We've got a sneak peek.

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune

Dog-Eared Books officially opens Monday, but Lovie the shop dog is already at work this week, greeting small groups of customers who have reserved times to browse the independent bookstore in downtown Ames.

Owners Ellyn Grimm and Amanda Lepper are busy at work, too, getting ready for the big day, but it’s a complete work of love and a “dream come true,” Lepper said.

It’s been several years since Ames boasted an independent bookstore, and time slots to browse and get a sneak peek this week were filled quickly.

Lepper’s 6-year-old golden retriever, Lovie, who is a trained therapy dog, is an obvious choice of mascot for the store, which has dog themes throughout, but she’s not the only reason for the name of the shop.

For Lepper and Grimm, when a book is dog-eared, it’s a clear sign the book is well-loved.

“Obviously, there’s the dog reference. We love dogs, Amanda trains dogs, we have a dog here,” Grimm said. “But we both dog-ear our pages. I dog-ear my pages to mark my spot, I dog-ear a page if there’s something that really resonates with me. And Amanda does the same thing.”

Shop dog Lovie sits near the entrance of Dog-Eared Books on Main Street in Ames, Iowa. The independent bookstore is preparing for its grand opening on March 8, 2021.

Lepper and Grimm said they spent a lot of time thinking about a business name that would really reflect their vision.

“I really love dogs, but also it’s very much about love of community, love of books, love of storytelling,” Lepper said. “When you dog-ear something, it shows the love.”

Sometimes people push back on the notion of folding the corner of a book, Grimm said. In a shocked tone, they sometimes say, “You really do that to your books?”

“I think if you’ve got little smudges on the pages and the corner of the page is turned, it shows that you really engaged with that book,” Grimm said. “So we want people to come here and find books that they will love and maybe dog-ear the pages of those books.”

It's a thought so imperative to Grimm’s and Lepper’s philosophies, it’s emblazoned on the brick wall near the entrance with a neon sign that reads: “Books are meant to be loved.”

On one side, the bookstore features exposed brick, punctuated by bookshelves, the neon sign, and art by employee Tanvi Rastogi, formerly the young-adult librarian at the Ames library.

Related:After COVID-19 closure, Ames library reopens to visitors March 15

A mural adorns the wall behind the counter at Dog-Eared Books on Main Street Monday, March 1, 2021, in Ames, Iowa. The independent bookstore will host its grand opening on March 8, 2021.

On the other side is a giant mural behind the coffee bar/cash register that shows Ames landmarks and key features of the store. The artist is Shelby Mitchell of Rippke Design, the firm that has helped Dog-Eared with its branding.

Upstairs is a cozy sitting room, complete with an electric fireplace, where customers can relax, drink their coffee and read. The space is also available for book clubs and other meetings and can be reserved ahead for such purposes.

You can order drinks — ranging from coffee to beer — and baked goods in the shop.

Situated between Cafe Diem and Morning Bell Roasters, Lepper and Grimm didn’t want to stomp on that territory with espresso drinks, but they both like black drip coffee, so they figured they would have some available for their customers too. If you’d like a little something extra in it, you can get a splash of Iowish Cream Liqueur, a spirit created by Mississippi River Distilling Company.

A cozy reading area is available upstairs at Dog-Eared Books on Main Street in Ames, Iowa. The space will also be available for book club meetings and other small gatherings. The independent bookstore is preparing for its grand opening on March 8, 2021.

Yes, Dog-Eared Books is a bookstore that also has a liquor license and a selection of wine, craft beer, hard seltzers and On The Rocks brand bottled cocktails.

“And of course we have non-alcohol drinks too,” Lepper said.

Baked goods, like giant cookies, come from The Filling Station in Ames. Grimm and Lepper bake scones onsite with dough from The Filling Station, and “it makes our place smell amazing,” Lepper said.

Dog-Eared also has gifts for sale.

“We have some fun merchandise that reflects our branding and we’re excited about,” Lepper said. “We collaborated with Raygun on our pint glasses.”

Anna McConnell, whose family owns Vintage Pickers in Ames, helps with the merchandising in the store, like the vintage bicycle vignette that’s currently featured in the front window.

Merchandise includes Bullet Journals, Dog-Eared Books-themed Washi tape, stickers, coffee cups, tote bags and puzzles — lots of puzzles.

“We want to have the best puzzle selection in town,” Lepper said. “We are obsessed with puzzles. Ellyn and I both love them — this is our stress relief.”

“And if you like audiobooks, it’s really cool to do a puzzle while you’re listening,” Grimm said.

They also have a literary candle line by Nobel Objects. Each of the scents is named after a book, with some element of the story worked in. For example, the “Little Women” candle has the fragrance of limes, inspired by the character Amy’s interest in pickled limes.

“We do have a candle coming in collaboration with Oak Lane Candles, down the road,” Grimm said. “They’re called Get Lit, and they’ll have Dog-Eared and Oak Lane branding on them, so we were really excited to collaborate with another downtown business.”

Local authors featured; shop serves readers of all interests and ages

The bookstore is sectioned into areas of interest, such as staff recommendations and a section called People in Our Neighborhood, which offers recommendations from local authors, businesspeople, educators and faith leaders. Local authors are also featured in this area.

“We are really enthusiastic about supporting local authors,” Lepper said. “We want to celebrate their successes.”

There’s a section called Take a Literary and Someday Literal Vacation, based on a recent virtual presentation by local travel expert Sarah Wiley of Open Atlas, who offered information about the “five hottest destinations that you’re going to want to travel to as soon as the borders open up,” Lepper said.

“We paired each of those places with fiction books from that place,” Grimm said. “If you can’t go there now, you can travel there through fiction.”

Many titles are on display on the bookshelves of Dog-Eared Books on Main Street Monday, March 1, 2021, in Ames, Iowa. The independent bookstore is preparing for its grand opening on March 8, 2021.

Grimm said Wiley will be giving another presentation this spring on the topic of national parks.

The store has a substantial sci-fi fantasy section. Since neither of the shop owners read a lot of this genre, they created a local focus group of enthusiasts who helped curate that section.

There’s a cookbook section with recommendations by Mindy Bergstrom, owner of Cooks’ Emporium and two other downtown Ames businesses.

Grimm and Lepper, who are both moms, are passionate about children’s books and young-adult books, so a large part of the store is dedicated to space for their reading materials. Seats from the old Meeker Elementary auditorium are located in the children’s section.

“My background is teaching,” Grimm said. “I’ve taught English in every grade, from seventh through 12th grade.”

The store offers a full selection of Hairy Maclary books, a series based on a little dog who likes to hang out in his neighborhood and has different dog friends. The books are published in New Zealand and were discovered by Grimm’s family when they lived there for several months when she was a kid.

“I was 14 and my brother Mark was 7. My mom (Gina Moore, of Ames) found these books, and we just loved them,” Grimm said.

“They have a rhyming, singsongy cadence to them, so they’re wonderful read-alouds. We love them,” she said. “I think we are the only brick-and-mortar store in the United States that has the whole collection.”

A large art installation that features Hairy Maclary and four of his friends is planned for the children’s book section. Local photographer Dan McClanahan is going to recreate an image from one of the books and it will be in a downtown Ames setting.

Lepper is a self-proclaimed children’s book enthusiast.

“The way some people collect shoes, I spend excessive amounts of money on picture books,” Lepper said. “That’s always been my thing, even before I had kids.”

She’s really proud of the store’s collection of children’s books because it’s not just what is being pushed by publishers right now.

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“It’s the best children’s books from my own childhood, all our years raising children, what is popular now — we have everything,” Lepper said.

“Part of our mission is to grow and nurture readers of all ages, and it was really important for us not to neglect kids,” Grimm said. “That’s why we have such robust children’s through young adult sections. Because that’s the time when you learn to love reading.”

Lepper’s father-in-law, Rich, is a homebuilder, and his crew built a dog-house-themed reading nook, which Amanda decorated with dogs who are famous in literature, as well as photos of her three dogs, Honey, a retired therapy dog, Lovie and Zooey, who is a shop dog in training.  

“It’s just designed to be a place where kids can go and sit and read, and it’s really fun,” Lepper said. “Lovie can go and listen to them read aloud.”

As a “bookstore tourist,” she really loves seeing unique features in bookstores.

“That’s what I feel draws people — the curated collection but also what it feels like to be in the bookstore,” Lepper said.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at noon Monday for Dog-Eared Books, which is located at 203 Main St. Ames Main Street staff will be on hand, and the event will also be livestreamed on Facebook.