Conquest Books – Ashland, Kentucky
A joint venture between entrepreneurs in downtown Ashland, Kentucky, is creating a haven for lovers of artistic works. Talmadge Callihan and Brittany Stevens, owners of the newly opened Conquest Books, share space with building owner Bri Reynolds’ The Jewel art gallery, creating a unique artistic experience unique to the city.
“We’ve started out really small,” said Stevens. “We started out with only one shelf. We’re kind of trying to grow with our customers.”
And grow they have. Conquest Books, which opened alongside The Jewel in January, takes up the front third of the space with a small but carefully curated and impressive inventory of titles, including fiction, biography, horror, sci-fi and more. But you might not find many titles atop the bestsellers list.
“We want to have exclusive and inclusive books,” Stevens said. “We’re really pushing authors that people aren’t going to just find at Walmart – not a lot of known authors. We have a large selection of Indigenous authors, lots of African American authors, and we try to spotlight them. It’s really helped with people coming in and finding a good book that they usually wouldn’t purchase otherwise.”
They’re also listening to what their customers want and are surprised to find requests aligning with their own personal tastes.
“We’re actually shocked at how many people are interested in horror,” Stevens said. “Talmadge is interested in horror, and a lot of people come in that are interested in the vintage horror that we have.”
That made deciding what to stock a little easier, even if it is a daunting task for a new shop owned by first-time booksellers. Stevens comes from the social work industry, while Callihan has worked in restaurant management and runs an online publishing company.
“We both have specific types of books that we like, but how do we know what everyone else likes? That was the hardest thing for us.”
Prior to opening, the couple did some social media research to see what local readers were into, chose some well-selected popular titles to start, and approached inventory based on the calendar, stocking Black authors ahead of Black History Month in February and female authors for March’s Women’s History Month. It’s helping them build inventory while listening to what customers desire and responding to their requests.
Locals seem to be appreciating the attentive touch. The shop was bustling when I stopped in on a Saturday afternoon, both with readers and visitors to the gallery. The businesses are proving to be a successful match. When Reynolds bought the building and posted on Facebook that she was interested in opening a bookshop in the space next door to the gallery, Stevens reached out. The idea soon led to combining the two into the same retail space.
“We have some people that come in just to browse the art and end up buying a book,” said Stevens. “Some people that have come in just to browse books end up leaving with a piece of art, so it just works together. It brings in the dynamic of the customers we were looking to serve, offering an experience where people are included and everything they love is in one spot.”
Soon there will be even more to enjoy. The aforementioned space that was originally to house the bookstore will open this month as a café, and basement space is being considered for ideas like a small movie theater, an arcade or a record shop.
“We want to offer more media as we grow,” said Stevens. “Talmadge loves vintage magazines and newspapers. Every type of media is what we’d eventually like to do.”
If exploring the varied offerings of the bookshop and gallery – not to mention the rest of downtown Ashland – sounds like fun, visitors can even stay on site. Reynolds converted the upper floors of the building into a boutique apartment available for rent on Airbnb.
The shop plans to open its doors for more events like book clubs, signings and poetry readings with local authors, and plans to schedule things in conjunction with the city’s popular First Friday block party celebration during the summer months.
Conquest Books is located at 323 15th Street in Ashland, Kentucky. Open Tuesday through Saturday.