The owner of a local bookstore on Gray Street is seeing an increase in business after she gave away t-shirts to NPS students with a QR code to the Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned Project.
Heather Hall grew up patronizing the local bookstore, The Book Stall, on Main Street with her mom in the 70s and 80’s. Now, more than three decades later, she has taken over the store, which moved to 300 W. Gray St. in the 80s and later became Gray Street Books.
At the store now named Green Feather Book Company, Hall looks to cultivate a community space where stories about all walks of life have continued accessibility.
She graduated from East Central University with her Bachelor’s in legal studies in 2019 with every intention of heading to law school, but ultimately chose to create a business plan pertaining to bookstore ownership. At the time, she viewed the idea as plausible, but really more of a dream than anything.
“Never in my wildest imaginings did I think I was actually putting together the business plan I would end up working with,” Hall said. “I thought, ok, bookstores are fun, and I’m a book person.”
The more she researched, she became increasingly sure an underserved need existed in the community for an independent bookstore. When Kendra Milligan, the store’s previous owner, made an offer for Gray Street Books, Hall knew it was time to put that plan to action.
Hall took over the bookstore in March and opened up in August. It quickly gained statewide and even national notoriety earlier this month when she shared the same QR code that a former NPS teacher shared with students that led to a state official calling to revoke her teaching certificate.
Hall gave away free t-shirts to NPS students with the code to the Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned Project, which links code users to an application for a library card to their system, where those books can be digitally accessed.
Since the controversy, Hall said around 30% of patrons said they came by after hearing about it.
“We still have a growing number of customers that are coming in because they just realized the store is open again, and that is also amounting to the number of customers, so it’s kind of a combo. We have had quite a number of people coming to mention the (news stories), and all of that,” Hall said.
Lawmakers and state officials who are against certain book titles in school districts have cited sexually explicit passages and illustrations.
After hearing about Hall’s efforts to spread the QR code via the shirts, State education secretary Ryan Walters said NPS would have to determine if it provides “direct access to sexually explicit materials.” Sen. Rob Standridge, who has spoken against the QR code, could not be immediately reached for comment about the bookstore shirts this week.
But Hall and others have focused more on the titles officials have tried to remove, and their overarching themes.
Hall expressed the importance of events that foster conversation about why people might be afraid of certain books.
“My intentions aren’t to create havoc in the schools — my intentions are simply to offer kids an opportunity to do what apparently teachers are allowed to do, which is to share with one another the fact that they can access banned books at a public library,” Hall said.
Steve Gooch, co-owner of Literati Press Bookshop in Oklahoma City, said her efforts are crucial in the fight against censorship.
“(It’s important) to make sure books get into the hands of people who want them,” he said.
Hall said it’s unfortunate accessibility to titles that were once required reading or commonplace in school libraries are being challenged in Oklahoma school districts, but the controversy means an increase in purchases of those titles. She said it’s been a windfall for the business.
Gooch described Norman as a literary center and said Green Feather Book Company plays a pivotal role in that environment.
While the old owner sold exclusively new books, Hall looks to create a balance between used and new books. Her reason for that is twofold — she doesn’t want books to be too expensive for potential customers, and many titles aren’t printed anymore.
As a Chickasaw, one of the first publishers she sought out was the Chickasaw Press. Among her highest priorities is ensuring Chickasaw books published by a Chickasaw publisher can be found in the store.
A current focus of Hall’s is building the selection of comics and graphic novels for kids. Hall said her family loves Speeding Bullet Comics in town, but their selection caters more to adults.
“My longterm goal is to have one of, if not the best graphic novel sections in the metropolitan area, but specifically for children and middle grade audiences — i’m not seeking to compete with Speeding Bullet Comics because we love (them),” Hall said. “We want to bring in some manga as well.”
Green Feather Books will have a Lunch and Learn Oct. 10. The Chickasaw cooking event will feature an Indian Taco sale and an opportunity to learn how to make grape dumplings, a traditional dish of the tribe.
An author panel and “book tasting” event is scheduled for Nov. 12. Hall said they will host indigenous authors Mary Ruth and Wiley Barnes from 11 a.m. to noon for storytime. Attendees can taste a freshly brewed native tea and engage in discussion with a panel of authors until 2 p.m.