Twenty-eight years ago, Cheryl Collier made the life-changing decision to leave her job as a hospital executive and open her own independent bookstore. Since then, KD’s Books has weathered the arrival of big-box bookstores as well as online shopping while continuing to succeed in this often uncertain market.
Collier credits the store’s longevity on a specific niche — children’s books and toys — that is both sustainable and just right for Lee’s Summit, a growing community with many young families.
“I have always loved books and reading and am passionate about sharing that love of reading with others,” said the bookstore owner.
Before opening KD’s Books, Collier spent 15 years at Baptist Medical Center where she served as the human resources director. By the end of her career at Baptist, hospitals were being absorbed into large corporations, and layoffs were becoming commonplace at her medical center.
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“That part of my job was very difficult,” she said. “I had always thought of having my own business, so my husband (Clark Collier) and I spent around a year looking for the right fit. We lived in Lee’s Summit and wanted the business to be here.”
After doing the research, Collier settled on a bookstore that focused on the children’s market, as well as used books. The name, KD’s Books, comes from the first names of her two children — Kristin and David — who were 14 and 8 when the store opened in 1990.
Originally located in an approximately 900-square-foot storefront in western Lee’s Summit, Collier made the decision within a few years to move to her current location at 241 S.E. Main St. in downtown Lee’s Summit.
In the early 1990s, downtown Lee’s Summit barely resembled today’s vibrant business district that attracts visitors from throughout the metropolitan area.
“Downtown was much different, with not nearly as many retail stores.”
Soon after moving to downtown, the small store faced a major challenge with the opening of a national chain in Lee’s Summit.
“When Borders opened, it was traumatic,” Collier said. “The first month they opened, we lost 25 percent of our business. We took a big hit. However, little by little the customers came back.”
Within a few years, national bookstore chains were suffering drops in sales as online retailers began to capture more and more of the book market. Collier said when Borders closed in Lee’s Summit several years ago, she could barely believe that her store had withstood the big-box giant.
Despite the loss of nearly 1,000 independent bookstores in the early part of this century, the smaller stores are making a comeback, according to the American Booksellers Association.
“We can’t compete with the quantity of titles available online,” Collier said. “However, people come to rely on our suggestions. They’ll come in and say, ‘I need something for my grandson — he’s 4.’ Or ‘I have a 10-year-old who likes to read mysteries. What do you recommend?’”
Collier is known among her loyal customers — many who have shopped at KD’s for decades — for her friendliness and spot-on recommendations.
One of those longtime customers is Cathy Barr of Lee’s Summit. Barr, a retired educator, started shopping at KD’s when her daughters were preschoolers, sometimes taking her children to the store on a weekly basis. As the grandmother of three, ranging from newborn to age 4, she continues to visit the bookstore with her next generation.
“Cheryl has a warm and inviting presence,” Barr said, “and it is a place you want to go to again and again.”
Collier said she is always on the lookout for new children’s books as well as fun and educational toys for the store. The used book portion of the store — which includes thousands of titles — has not expanded at the pace of the children’s offerings but is still an important component in the store’s success.
Despite the challenges weathered by independent booksellers, Collier said, “Other than the initial investment, the store has always paid for itself.”
She added that she feels fortunate to be able to follow her passion. “I absolutely love what I’m doing and when you love what you’re doing, you share that enthusiasm with people,” she said.