The Author Shoppe has become a new addition to downtown Hattiesburg. The bookstore is looking to provide more than just beverages and books, and part-owners Murph and Erin Little look to create a new community for the Hattiesburg area.
For the Littles, the story of developing a community of readers and writers started at William Carey University.
As undergrads, Murph and Erin were fortunate to be taught by Dr. Allison Chestnut, who is a professor of language and literature at William Carey. Chestnut inspired both Murph and Erin to return to complete their master's degrees in English, which is how they met.
“I studied undergrad at William Carey,” Murph said. “I graduated in 2015, and she was the reason I went back to get my master's degree that same year.”
Erin said the couple met in their first master’s class at the university.
The two's love for books and reading transpired into opening The Author Shoppe. Chestnut also became a part-owner of the shop.
“My wife and I and Allison Chestnut always wanted a bookstore,” Murph said. “Personally, I wanted a community to talk to and help out my writing. I'm an extrovert, and I'm kind of a social writer. I like being able to bounce ideas off people.”
However, starting a new business has brought its challenges, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had planned on opening March 26, and it just didn't work out that way,” Erin said. “We were allowed to open to 10 people, and so that's what we did. The biggest challenge is getting people in, but the people who are coming are spending money.”
According to Murph, the combination of dealing with the pandemic and being a new business owner has created a variety of challenges.
“The two challenges are the lack of people downtown and being able to procure the goods and services needed to open the store,” Murph said. “Going to Lowes and Home Depot and having to wait in line (was difficult.)
“The floor was a nightmare. I have a heavy floor grinder, and it was around $300 to rent. It still didn't get up all the paint, and I pushed that thing around in the showroom for 19 hours, and I blew a breaker. I kept running it too long because I fell asleep while running it. There's still paint on the floors, (but) it's got character.”
According to Erin, since opening the store, various people have showed their kindness towards the new owners.
“Despite the pandemic, we have had so many people that are willing to reach out and help us,” Erin said. “We have been very fortunate that we have not had the startup cost that we expected to have.
“We had a lady in Columbia, she was closing her store at her own will, and we went over to see what she had. She gave us probably $2,000 in stuff (such as) furniture, books, lighting, a rug. She was very, very kind.”
The shop will include various opportunities for writers and readers such as future workshops and will be open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Along with books, the store will also sell coffee, tea, beer and wine, but will also include a conference room that can be rented and used for podcast recording.
“We'll have a conference room set up so people can rent that out if they wanted to host a game night or something like that, but it will also be where we have podcasting,” Erin said. “It'll be essentially a podcasting studio. The room is padded, and we are adding more soundproofing in it, but that'll be a service. Another idea is if a podcast wanted to do a live show.”
The store will also feature art that will be regularly showcased and sold.
“We will be having art on the walls,” Murph said. “The previous tenants had art wall tracks, and we have had a few people already set up to display their art. We are offering super low commissions at only 30 percent. We want art and color in this place. We don't want an art piece over $200 because I want art to move in and out so that people can always see something there.”
Despite the pandemic, for both Erin and Murph, the opportunity to develop a new Hattiesburg community has still been an exciting process.
“What we can provide is a community,” Murph said. “I'm a writer, and I love books. What we want to do with this place is to set up a community of readers and writers present in Hattiesburg.”