Who would think that a downtown bereft of intriguing small specialty shops and dining options would prove advantageous? No one, most would say; however, that lack turned out to be a career turning point for two enterprising entrepreneurs.
While Frankfort’s downtown may be bustling today, it was anything but in 1978 when Liz Taylor opened Poor Richard’s Books in a 19th century building on Broadway, or even 11 years later when her friend Ann Wingrove opened her own shop, Completely Kentucky, next door.
The two women had literature and art covered, particularly Kentucky authors and artists, but there was still something missing.
“The one thing that was missing was a casual dining spot with good food and a welcoming atmosphere,” says Wingrove.
The resourceful ladies found the answer. Out of their two establishments they created a third – located between them – the Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe. The bookseller and the gallery owner ran it themselves for the first 10 years until 2008 when Mary Nishimuta took over the cafe.
The dynamic duo became a terrific trio, and their businesses became a Frankfort trifecta, with visitors able to experience all three under one roof.
Poor Richard’s Books has the kind of musty appeal that every bibliophile loves……. not too pristine or fussy, but relaxed, comfortable and inviting. A place where book lovers can find that tome they’ve been looking for, whether it be fiction, non-fiction, nature, children’s lit or history.
Especially if it’s Kentucky history.
“About one-quarter of the store is devoted to Kentucky subjects and Kentucky authors,” says Taylor, whose husband Richard is a former Kentucky poet laureate and novelist.
FYI: The bookstore is not named for her husband – celebrated as he is – but rather as an homage to Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Allowing that her own personal favorite authors are as diverse as Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, Barbara Kingsolver and Louise Fitzhugh, she claims, “I re-read Pride and Prejudice every five years, and if I had read Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy at 12 instead of 21, my life would have been different.”
Both buyers and browsers are welcome here. Adults are intrigued by the Attic Treasures, a section containing books that are often out of print, and the Larkspur Press display, showcasing the intricate works from the historic press in Owen County, and featuring works by Kentucky icons such as John Jacob Niles and Wendell Berry.
In an effort to encourage children to become life-long readers, Taylor has designated a mini-reading room for them, complete with aquarium and the Poor Richard’s mascot – Scout, her son’s first teddy bear who has been a fixture since the store opened.
Moving through the archway – hopefully with a book from Poor Richard’s to keep them company, visitors arrive at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café. This is the place to go for breakfast (a must have is the Egg Baby Burrito, a crustless quiche with local hot sauce); lunch (where the chicken salad, or for vegetarians, eggplant panini are the big draws), or just to stop in for a cup of coffee or something a bit more spirited.
“I like to say we’re a non-bar bar,” says Mary Nishimuta, noting that the Coffeetree Café is a popular downtown post-work stop for a Bloody Mary or Margarita.
In addition, the café serves as a neighborhood bodega selling their most popular items to go: the chicken salad, black bean salsa, and a variety of soups from cold gazpacho in the summer months to stomach-warming chicken gnocchi soup in the chillier months.
Nishimuta sees the Kentucky Coffeetree Café as a community gathering spot. Thus, she has initiated such crowd-pleasers as live acoustic jams every Thursday, and during the summer months, Wind-Down Wednesdays on the sidewalk in front of the café.
“It’s a good way to celebrate mid-week,” she says.
From the café, it’s just a few steps to the third of the interconnecting businesses. At Completely Kentucky, located in a 166-year-old building, owner Ann Wingrove showcases the works of 500 artists and artisans.
Spread across two floors are handcrafted items ranging from ceramic coffee mugs to jewelry, woven blankets to Weisenberger Mill mixes.
There is a wide range of prices, from 35 cents for a candy stick to thousands of dollars for some of the artwork.
Age is also not a factor in the artists whose work she sells. A 12-year-old Bowling Green girl, the youngest of her artists, works in an unusual medium – slime, a fluid which is neither liquid nor solid, and changes shape as the occasion demands.
As for her oldest artists – several are in their 90’s. “One is a potter from northern Kentucky, and the other is a jeweler from Woodford County,” she says.
“The only requirement is that the artists be creating and working in Kentucky,” says Wingrove.
All three women have a strong sense of community, even though none are Frankfort or even Kentucky natives. Speaking for the trio, Wingrove says, “We like to call ourselves intentional Kentuckians.”
These ‘intentional Kentuckians’ are only too happy to work together to benefit the community they love so well. They offer gift cards that can be used in each of the businesses, pool their advertising dollars, and work together on events such as the Downtown Derby Breakfast and Candlelight Weekend, a holiday shopping event held every November.
This Frankfort trifecta has also proven beneficial to the women personally and professionally.
“Independent bookstores are becoming obsolete,” says Taylor. “This collaboration offers us a better chance of not becoming one of them.”
Nishimuta thinks people like the idea of a mini mall.
“Books, food and art seem like natural fits,” she says.
Wingrove sums it up for all of them.
“It makes us more of a destination,” she says. “All of us are Kentucky-themed businesses offering a real Kentucky experience.”