Rainy Day Books sells to ownership group led by Made in Kansas City founders – Kansas City Business Journal – The Business Journals

Rainy Day Books put itself up for sale this spring, and the new local ownership group is handing it a “much bigger microphone.”
It’s comprised of entrepreneurs, business leaders and longtime Rainy Day Books customers. The founders of Made in Kansas City, who are part of the ownership group, will oversee operations.
“We view your local bookstore as the pinnacle of retail,” Made in KC co-founder Tyler Enders said. “Any company that has been around for 47 years clearly has good business acumen, but also is very flexible. They’ve had to adapt and have really nurtured relationships with their customers. … It’s a storied, iconic institution.”
The new owners will pursue bigger author events, cross-marketing, a presence at the Kansas City International Airport and expanded hours. Enders also sees potential to eventually open other Rainy Day Books stores.
Through the years, the independent Fairway bookstore received multiple offers to buy the business, but none were the right fit, said Geoffrey Jennings, the son of Rainy Day Books founder Vivien Jennings.
“Made in Kansas City is basically giving Rainy Day Books a much bigger microphone, and they’re going to be able to do that very quickly. The store needs to grow. We’re at an inflection point,” he said.
Now 77, Vivien Jennings wants to slow down and spend more time with friends and family. Plus, she has new grandkids. But even with the sale, she still wants to be involved with the store and will continue making book recommendations to customers and planning author events.
Her life and business partner, Roger Doeren, will continue helping on the tech side, and Geoffrey Jennings will remain an inventory buyer and organizer of author events.
“The idea of stopping cold turkey just never felt right,” Geoffrey Jennings said.
For award-winning author and journalist David Von Drehle, it became a personal mission to find the right owners. The longtime Rainy Day Books customer and Johnson County resident is a columnist for The Washington Post and previously was an editor-at-large for Time magazine.
His career gave him a “profound sense of how unusual a store Rainy Day Books is.” For events, its industry reputation lands big-name authors at a scale that rivals most cities, he said. Past authors and celebrities have included Stephen King, John Grisham, Hilary Clinton, John Cleese and Martha Stewart.  
Von Drehle initially pitched the idea of investing in Rainy Day Books to his book club, and he told the Jennings and Doeren that if they found an ideal operator who needed financial backing, he’d help line up an investment group.
Von Drehle and his wife, Karen Ball, now are Rainy Day Books investors. The investment group also includes members of Von Drehle’s book club and individuals such as Leigh and Tyler Nottberg, CEO of U.S. Engineering, and local art collectors Christy and Bill Gautreaux, also a former Inergy LP president who’s now part of the Kansas City Royals ownership group.
Von Drehle credited the Gautreauxs with quietly assembling the pieces to make the deal a success.
Everyone in the group is a Rainy Day Books customer, Enders said.
“That was the dream,” Geoffrey Jennings said. “(They) get what we do.”
Although the Covid-19 pandemic authored Rainy Day Books’ toughest challenge, the business once again is flourishing. During the holiday season last year, the store had record sales.
“It was insane what we were doing,” Geoffrey Jennings said. “The writing was on the wall, just from the numbers, that we needed more.”
And that’s where the new ownership group comes in. Made in KC’s founders are young, giving them the stamina to reinvent the store the way Vivien Jennings and Roger Doeren would if they were younger, she said.
Made in KC has the employee base to expand hours to widen access to more people, and it has the marketing and social media prowess to reach more customers.
While Rainy Day Books has a loyal customer base of about 5,000 people, Made in KC’s exceeds 100,000. Some probably are book lovers.
“We think a lot of our customers are Rainy Day Books customers — they just don’t know it yet,” Enders said.
Made in KC is part of a group that’s helping shape the new retail tenants at the airport, and Enders hopes to create room for Rainy Day Books, such as promoting the store’s coming events, a display within a store or a small store of its own.
“We will be pushing pretty hard to get some sort of Rainy Day Books presence,” he said.
Geoffrey Jennings said one possibility could be a rotating display of books written by authors who are flying into Kansas City for a Rainy Day Books event.
Vivien Jennings is glad the new owners want to build upon the vision and the store’s legacy of literacy. Growing up poor, she didn’t own a book until middle school, but she discovered a love for reading in the fourth grade with “A Girl of the Limberlost.”
Like Vivien Jennings, the main character also was poor, but found needed encouragement from the local community.
“It changed her, and it allows her to go forward,” she said. “In reading that book, I realized I could go forward. … When you read a book, you open yourself up to all the possibilities and the world. I wanted to share what books have done for me with other people. I wanted to connect them to the possibilities.”
Now, it’s not tough for her to give up ownership.
“It’s not the signal of an end of an era,” she said. “It’s actually an extension of what we’ve been doing for 47 years. We want to continue the importance of literacy and what that can mean to a community. I think Tyler and Made in Kansas City will also take that forward.”
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