As Joe Chevalier stood inside Get Lost! Bookshop in Columbia on a summer day in 2013, the cashier made a comment that changed his life. The shop was going out of business, but the owner was willing to sell it to the right person. Chevalier fit the description.
He and his wife, Kelsey Hammond, whom he met in 2001 working at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, California, held hands as they left the store that day. She knew they were thinking the same thing: They were going to buy the shop.
“Whatever that feeling is when you realize you’re in love with someone, that’s exactly the feeling we had,” she says. They were passionate about the local business scene in Columbia.
Buying Get Lost! was a risk, but they felt like the right people to do it. The pair officially took over the shop in August 2013, and Yellow Dog Bookshop came to life.
What was your mission when you opened Yellow Dog, and how has it changed?
We wanted to be a place you could come to for a good book. That was the basic mission. And beyond that, we were hoping to become an institution in the community, a place you had to visit when you came to Columbia.
How do you keep busy in the shop?
I’m working hard. I actually read less now than before I had the shop because we have this constant stream of books coming in. I’m processing books, pricing them, getting them out on the floor, looking at what’s sold, restocking from our overstock, making the store look good, researching books and planning events.
Does Unbound Book Festival help business and community engagement?
For the first couple of years, we didn’t see as much of a direct impact. It’s been basically a two-day event with the keynote on Friday and everything else on Saturday at Stephens College. And they had book sales there, so that’s kind of where all the action was. This year, they’re expanding a little bit. We’re becoming a little more involved. There’s another event on Friday at Fretboard Coffee with six poets, and we’ll be selling books at that. The first year, we did have Michael Ondaatje come into the shop the day of his reading, and that was exciting. He spent about an hour or so in the store, browsed around, ended up buying maybe four or five books and a T-shirt.
How exciting is it for you to see the community rallying around reading?
It’s great. We love reading, we love books, and we want to share books with people. No one who is in books is in it for money. Our favorite part is probably sharing books we love with people who might want to read them and talking with people about books they love. The fact that Unbound draws so many people and has been so successful just helps convince us that we’re doing the right thing, that this is a good town for a bookstore and that people are still in love with books.
What’s your favorite spot to read?
I can read almost anywhere, but probably my favorite spot is to be in a good, comfortable chair with a nice, warm yellow light over my shoulder. And sometimes that’s our library at home.
Where do you want Yellow Dog to be in 15 years?
We’re not totally sure where we want to be in 15 years. We’ve always hoped to get back to California at some point, and we’ve never had a real timeline on how that’s going to work. But we hope that, if we do step away, that we leave it in a place where it can be successful for another person running it. And if we’re still the people running it, then that’ll be great, too, because that’ll mean we’ve been good at it for that long. ￼