Lauren Groff on What It's Like to Launch a Bookstore in the Land of Book Bans

The Lynx opened in Florida as a foil to the state's censorship of books—and to create a safe, inclusive place for the community to come together.

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The Cost of Starting Your Own Business talks to founders to get an honest look at what it really takes to create a company. Not just the financial, but the personal and emotional costs, too.

Best-selling author and longtime Florida resident Lauren Groff couldn’t sit by idly as book bans became increasingly commonplace in her state over the past two years. So she and her husband, Clay Kallman, decided to open a bookshop in Gainesville to create a haven for all readers and uplift frequently challenged works. Named after the Florida native big cat, The Lynx, their slogan puts it best: “Watch Us Bite Back.”

Owning a bookstore had long been a dream for the couple, but when Governor Ron DeSantis passed legislation in 2022 that made it easier for individual books to be contested in public schools, they knew they needed to open up shop. Two years later, after renovating an old hair salon in downtown Gainesville into a store—fit with an event space, cafe, and children’s reading nook—The Lynx finally welcomed guests through its doors in late April.

The Lynx highlights historically banned books, as well as LGBTQ+ and BIPOC authors, whose work have largely become the focus of scrutiny in Florida—which has seen the highest number of book-banning cases in the past two years. Groff, who is a three-time National Book Award finalist, helped curate the store’s collection of 7,000 titles and hopes to turn the space into an integral part of the community with inclusive programming.

In the days before the store's opening, Groff emailed with Marie Claire about what this chapter of her life as a business owner has been like.

The early days:

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My husband Clay Kallman and I have dreamed about opening a bookstore in Gainesville since we first moved here in 2006. Clay is originally from Gainesville, and his family opened a bookstore called The Florida Bookstore in the 1930s, which they sold in the late '90s. Clay was raised in bookselling: his first job was teaching the point-of-sale system to new employees.

That said, our dream wouldn't have come to much had the state not started cracking down on freedom of expression, and had groups like (the oxymoronically named) Moms for Liberty not pressed forward on their campaign to ban books all over the state. We saw this happening and felt so deeply for the people whose voices and identities were being squelched by a loud and intolerant minority. We dreamed of a general-interest store that would have a special emphasis on banned books; that would celebrate and promote books by LGBTQI+ writers and writers of color; that would fill in the blanks that the Florida educational system is intentionally leaving in our students' education. We decided to meet the authoritarians on their own playground: private business.

The purpose of this store is to act as a lighthouse. To radiate warmth and brightness out to the people who feel as though the state of Florida is currently invalidating their lives and their history. To let them know that there are people here who love and accept them, who want for them to live happily as they are, and who will be fighting for them into the future.

We want to resist the simple story that has been told of what Florida is, to make the story more complex and interesting, to show how book bans are, in fact, deeply unpopular with nearly everyone in the state, and that, through book banning, only a tiny minority of people are trying to impose their political beliefs on the vast majority of Floridians.

We will be engaging in programming to encourage the dissemination of ideas that may be uncomfortable to those who are in power. We will encourage reading widely and well and make literature accessible to populations for whom books may currently be a luxury. We want this store to be a source of pride for Gainesville and for Florida, and for it to become a national beacon. If booksellers are the next in line to be attacked by the state government, we are prepared for this eventuality and have a very large microphone. A group of Lynxes is a watch; we want the bad actors to know that we're watching.

Her financial situation at launch:

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The majority of the startup money has come from the books I have written (thank you to everyone who has ever bought one!). We did want to invite all who wanted to be a part of the store to help us out with the Indiegogo, for which my beautiful writer friends have donated so much: from superstar agent Bill Clegg donating two manuscript critiques to people like Hernan Diaz, Kaveh Akbar, and Cheryl Strayed giving Zooms to book clubs. The public responded with great gusto. We made 116 percent of our goal! And will be fulfilling the perks and blessing the generosity of people from all over the world for a few months to come, as well.

On the personal sacrifices:

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Nothing is really a sacrifice if it's done out of love, I think. I haven't read nearly as many books since November as I normally would have—from this, it's apparent that I have so little time at the moment, and when I do have time to wind down, I usually just fall asleep! But beauty can be found in these things. My children are stepping up and taking responsibility for themselves admirably. Maybe taking a break from reading is all right at the moment, because I'll be reading between 400 and 600 books in the next six months in my role as judge for this year's National Book Awards. Everything can be an opportunity if you look at it from a different perspective.

About the emotional costs:

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It's extraordinarily difficult to learn a brand new set of skills in one's mid-40s, and I have never started up a business, done all of the necessary paperwork, hired people, managed the money, figured out point-of-sale systems, or dealt with contractors before. It's all hard! I haven't been able to see some of my favorite people in months, because I'm working such long hours trying to get this airship off the ground.

a pinch me moment

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When I emailed Ann Patchett to tell her I was starting up a bookstore, and she emailed back, "You fool. I'm so proud of you."

What's made it worth it:

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Everything is worth it. I am so moved every day to see the goodwill that people are extending in our direction, as well as the hard work of our contractors and landlord and our two spectacular managers. Jackie and Gina are among the best people on the planet, and it's a joy to get to spend time with them. I also discovered how deep and powerful the love of books is in my adoptive hometown, and how hungry people have been for a more diverse slate of literary events. Also, to be honest, there are things that I have pretended to not be able to do in my home life because my husband both likes doing them, and because I wanted to protect my time and didn't want to be yoked into doing them (taxes, insurance, general household operations), and it's a little bittersweet to watch my husband begin to understand that I'm pretty competent in these things, actually.

Best advice she's received:

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A friend of mine owns a local bakery, Vine, and she told me not to sweat the delays that are inevitable when building out a store. "In five years, you won't even remember the date you opened," she said. She helped me see reason when I was being unreasonably strict about our timeline.

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