Bigger than books: Local bookstore bolsters feelings of community

Claflin Books has been in its location near Poyntz Avenue for four years and continues to serve the Manhattan community. Claflin Books is a member of the Arts and Humanities Association as well as a member of Friends of Johnny Kaw. (Alex Shaw | Collegian Media Group)

The store is cramped: barely larger than two dorm rooms, but full of books. Just inside the door is a mat that says, “Welcome to the Neighborhood, Shop Small.” Only a small sign posted in the window alerts passersbys to the presence of Claflin Books.

As the store’s website claims, the books on the shelves are “selected, not stocked.” Stormy Lee Kennedy, the store’s owner of 25 years, said many of the books are suggested by customers who have read them and think others will enjoy them.

“We had a very nice compliment gave to us that our inventory reflected people who like to read,” Kennedy said.

The books on the shelves include “A Dog’s Purpose” by W. Bruce Cameron, field guides on Kansas’ nature, children’s books and the work of local authors including university president Richard Myers.

The store attracts a base of “loyal” customers, Kennedy said, namely, Kansas State students and grandparents.

“We have a nice base of people who have been loyal customers, so we’ve been very fortunate that way,” Kennedy said. “We’ve had the honor of serving some K-State students, and sometimes those students continue to stay with us.”

Despite the base of loyal customers, Kennedy said Claflin Books is unable to compete with other bookstores such as the Books-A-Million in Manhattan Town Center around the corner.

“We don’t compete,” Kennedy said. “We’re just a bookstore that is here to share what other people are reading and enjoying. … There’s no way we can compete. We don’t have the inventory. Our inventory is totally different.”

On some days, Kennedy said the store sees only one customer. She also said she isn’t sure how much life the store has in it.

But Claflin Books is more than a bookstore; it’s a supporter of community.

Tucked into nooks and cubbies around the cash register are copies of the Collegian, city catalogs and maps and copies of the Konza Calendar. The store works with Friends of Konza Prairie, for which Kennedy is an honorary board member.

Kennedy and Claflin Books are also part of the Manhattan Arts and Humanities Association.

“The town and gown work together to promote arts and humanity ties,” Kennedy said. “We’re trying very hard to network together and at the same time, when we have a lot of new people in Manhattan for the first time, we can network with them. … It helps the store, but the big things is it shows people that Manhattan is willing to help.”

And it’s not just on a large scale. Kennedy said the No. 1 reason why people like where they live, why she likes living in Manhattan, is because they feel safe there.

“What are the composites that make up ‘safe?'” Kennedy said. “It’s across the street. There’s a barber over there and we wave at each other each morning. People stop in and say ‘good morning.’ It’s that kind of thing. It’s things like that that we’ve got in Manhattan, and I feel a responsibility to return to it. That’s kind of what is at the heart of it.”

Hey, hi, hello! I’m Rachel Hogan, the copy chief for The Collegian. I’m a senior in journalism from Olathe, Kansas. When I’m not at work in the newsroom, I like to spend my time cuddling with my dog, working as a barista and laughing with my friends.