By Jef Rietsma
Two longtime friends have an unlikely source to thank for their recent business partnership: COVID-19.
Kimm Mayer and Cathie Magill met when they were in seventh grade at White Pigeon Junior High. The thought then that a thing called COVID would bring the world to a standstill was improbable. Had they known then they’d one day go into business together? Impossible.
Now 55 years old, Mayer and Magill have been running Gilbert and Ivy, an independent bookstore, since its opening in May.
It was during daily walks in 2020 that the two sometimes joked about owning a bookstore together. They would always dismiss such an idea with laughter and a sarcastic, “Yeah, right.” But Mayer had always wanted to own a business and Magill was born with a passion for reading.
They continued to dismiss the idea. Again, laughing off such a far-flung idea. It was subtle how the skepticism morphed to reality, but the walks eventually turned into business meetings. The more they talked, the more momentum the once-dismissed concept gained. Before either fully recognized it, they were moving forward on opening a book store.
The next question: location? Mayer said she never tires of explaining why Vicksburg.
“Once we decided that we wanted to go in business, there were certain things that we were looking for,” she said. “We’re both from a small town and we wanted certain demographics from a population standpoint to tell us it has potential.”
She explained Vicksburg fell almost dead center of a 30-mile radius they established with I-94 to the north and Three Rivers to the south. With Vicksburg now on their radar, they did some homework and were impressed with the results.
“What really appealed to us was the investment that they were making, making to its infrastructure, making it so it’s a walkable community, making it a social district,” Mayer said. “Then, to see so many small businesses was encouraging, rent was favorable, we just felt like based on all we saw and all we knew, there was clearly momentum being established in Vicksburg.”
Magill said she and Mayer were uniform in their attraction to Vicksburg. She returned to Mayer’s reference to White Pigeon.
“This brings up back to that small-town feel that we grew up with, that we haven’t been a part of,” she said. “They’re our kind of people; it’s comfortable.”
Their first contact with the village was in January. Magill and Mayer said they were welcomed from the start and their search for a location eventually led them to 111 W. Prairie St. They agree the location is snug, but they also recognize business will dictate whether to secure a larger property.
Mayer and Magill have a stable of strong ideas to maintain visibility. Last month, for example, they hosted a Book Lovers Day. A few weeks later they hosted a celebration of romance, both novels and as a genre. Other innovative ideas? A yoga-themed reading group, a “Books and Beer” event in partnership with Distant Whistle and a tailgate event at Vicksburg High School’s home-opening varsity football game.
“I think sometimes there’s this notion that bookworms don’t do anything and they’re not social. That’s not the case,” Mayer said. “It’s about experiencing life through story, either being introduced to something you didn’t know or had never thought about, or traveling places that you could never go otherwise.”
Magill shared the backstory to the store’s name, Gilbert and Ivy.
“We had looked at all the play-on-words names, we looked pretty extensively on the internet to see what domains had already been taken, and we were not really able to find what was speaking to us,” she said. “So, I was in the car one day with my sister and she asked if Kimm had any pets.”
Mayer, of course, owns a cat named Gilbert. Magill owns a golden retriever named Ivy. Magill said Mayer bought into the name immediately. With that, a business and its logo were born.
Mayer, a former business professional, and Magill, a retired teacher from Hastings High School, said they consciously agreed to not start off too ambitiously and at the same time carefully monitor growth.
“We put a lot of thought into what we’re doing to be able to bring high-quality, new books to the area,” Mayer said. “We want it to be fresh, crisp, welcoming and comfortable here, and we want people to feel like they’re getting a great value for what they buy.”