Browsing Bison Books in Deer Lodge is changing hands after 17 years, but the new owners vow it will remain a treasure for readers of all ages.
The bookstore was established by Nancy Kelley and Cris Walrath 2002, but they have decided to retire.
Enter Jesse and Sasha Mullen, who officially took the reins of the store at 515 Main Street on May 1.
They plan to keep the name, and they say they are eager to meet current and new customers.
While visitors won’t see many changes to the store for a couple of months, the Mullens hope to expand Browsing Bison's offering over time.
Some of those changes will be small, such as adding book signings, featuring regional books as much as possible and creating a section for vinyl records. But some of their ambitions are bigger, such as adding a coffee bar that features coffee from the Coffee Cabin and creating a special area to showcase regional musicians, artists and craftsmen.
Even Jesse’s 14-year-old daughter Charlie-Anne plans to get in on the action with dreams of expanding the comic book section.
The Mullens also look forward to working closely with schools in town and in surrounding rural communities, coordinating with writing groups, book clubs and Kohrs Memorial Library, helping people find books of every genre and continuing the store's existing online book sales and trade programs.
Jesse said he has a love for the printed word that he inherited in part from his father, as he worked with him in the newspaper business, and that he cultivated while working as a volunteer at libraries during a childhood that saw his family move often.
While living in Laramie, Wyoming, he was a volunteer at both the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center Toppan Rare Books Library and the local county library.
“We are millennials who defy the odds because we like newspapers and books with paper pages," he said. "It might surprise you, but many people our age and younger are coming back to newspapers and books in spite of the internet and e-books.
"Many of the large box bookstores have gone out of business, but because of the trend with younger people there are more and more independent bookstores popping up all over the place," Jesse added. "People can find information on their smart phones, but I believe printed information has a presence and is more real.”
Sasha added that digital information is too easy to manipulate and change to misrepresent facts.
Last September, Jesse purchased the Silver State Post newspaper in Deer Lodge and the Philipsburg Mail from his parents, Tom and Annie Mullen.
The Mullens say they are enthusiastic about their new hometown and the people who live here.
Jesse noted there are a lot of people in Deer Lodge who volunteer in the community and that they are looking forward to doing their part to help the town be successful.
In addition to working with the schools and Kohrs Memorial Library, they anticipate being involved with other community organizations and activities.
Since moving to Deer Lodge last September, Jesse has become a member of the local Rotary Club and is chairman of the commerce committee under the Discover Deer Lodge Development Group.
Sasha grew up in Ohio and works as a veterinary assistant at the Clark Fork Veterinary Clinic.
Nancy Kelley and Cris Walrath said they deliberated for three years before deciding to retire and close the store. When they finally decided to do so, Jesse stopped them.
According to Cris, “In February, when I took a notice about the closure to the Silver State Post for publication, Jesse said, 'Let’s not run the notice and we’ll discuss another option.’”
Over the years Browsing Bison Books has served readers of all ages in the community and a large number outside of it, through their online book sales.
“So many people have told us we need this (the bookstore), and we are surprisingly busy even in the winter," Cris said. "It has been fun to watch customers tell each other about a book.”
The ladies noticed a drop in business when e-books first became popular, but after a year people began coming back to the store saying they wanted to be able to hold a book, close the book, think about it and then return to it.
Nancy and Cris said it has been a joy meeting people and working with the schools and library, and wish Jesse and Sasha much success in the future.
Browing Bison's business hours will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The Mullens will honor gift cards and accounts in the system.
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