It may have taken Stacy Hardin 30-some years to finally own a bookstore in Peoria, but she hasn’t wasted any time building on that dream since making it come true in 2016.
“When I was 12 years old, my dad took me to the Book Rack on the corner of Lake and Knoxville almost every Saturday,” Hardin said. “It was one of the best parts of my childhood, and I decided that I was going to own it one day and expand the store into a huge enterprise.”
As a teen, Hardin even began hoarding paperbacks for her future endeavor until her mom noticed one day and insisted she sell them at the family’s next garage sale.
While keeping the bookstore dream alive in her heart, Hardin grew up and operated a home daycare for about 15 years as she earned a master’s degree in early childhood education and post-graduate certification in dyslexia tutoring. She even started her own soy candle-making business in 2003.
Then when former owner Pat Leary finally put the Book Rack up for sale in 2014, Hardin wasn’t in a position to buy it due to other obligations at the time.
“I was really devastated,” she said. “I actually cried about it.”
She thought the store had closed without a buyer, but two years later she was driving by and saw it was still open. “We called and inquired about it, and the young man that had bought it had decided it really wasn’t for him so he agreed to sell it to me,” Hardin said.
She changed the store’s name to Book Rack Used Books and recently completed a 1,300-square-foot expansion by taking over the space next door.
“Before the expansion, the store just didn’t have enough room for my vision of what I wanted it to be. Adding the 1,300 extra square feet has made a huge difference,” Hardin said.
The store now features a gift shop area, where Hardin sells her candles, as well as literary-themed bookmarks, socks, tote bags and even Harry Potter-themed bath bombs that change color in the tub to reveal the bather’s Hogwarts’ house.
“It’s pretty fun. Everybody has a really good time when they come here,” she said.
The expansion also allowed her to create separate reading rooms for children and young adults, as well as a non-fiction room.
With a goal of providing affordable reading for everyone, Hardin prices most books between $2 and $4 and keeps a cart out front filled with free books for the taking. She also offers a free book to customers who stop in during their birthday week, and she maintains a Little Free Library at the Carver Community Center.
Hardin’s passion for promoting literacy comes from her lifelong love of books and the way books help her feel better no matter what’s happening in her life.
“That’s something I would like other people to be able to experience. Especially kids,” she said. “I think it’s really important for kids to know they can open a book and be transported somewhere else, and it can take their mind off whatever they’re going through at the moment. Stephen King said, ‘Books are a uniquely portable magic,’ and I believe that really to be true.”
Many of store’s books are donated or traded for store credit, but Hardin also scours estate sales and garage sales.
She’s constantly dreaming up ideas, such as the “Blind Date with A Book” promotion currently going on through Valentine’s Day. The promotion is meant to match readers with genres or authors they might not otherwise try.
“I just thought it would be fun to wrap a book and decorate it for Valentine’s Day and put a brief description of the book with a price to see if it would appeal to someone,” she explained. “We have tens and tens of thousands of books, so it’s very easy to overlook certain genres or certain authors.”
A portion of each book purchased through the promotion will go into an account that will benefit a few lucky teachers who enter their names at the bookstore to win store credit for books for their classrooms.
Recently, Hardin started making buttons from ragged children’s books and other materials. She also sometimes makes confetti out of book pages if the book can’t be repaired.
Hardin credits a lot of her ideas with the years she’s spent selling her soy candles at fairs and festivals. “If something is in bad shape, I’m always thinking of ways I can recreate it or reinvent it into something somebody would be able to use as opposed to throwing it away,” she said.
The store hosts an open book club for adults at 7 p.m. on the first and third Thursday of each month, and Hardin hopes to add book clubs for younger ages soon. She also plans to launch a podcast.
“Business has been very good,” Hardin said. “What surprised me the most is that people seem to be as excited about the expansion as I am. That’s humbling. I tell them this is their store, and I’m always asking for their input on how I can make it better.”
Between running the bookstore and still tutoring 10 kids twice a week as a dyslexia therapist, Hardin ironically doesn’t have much time to read these days. “It’s funny because everybody thought I’d just be sitting around reading all day being surrounded by all these books, but I don’t get to because I’m too busy,” she said with a laugh.
The store doesn’t have any employees, but she does have a few interns and a program in which people can volunteer up to three hours a week shelving books in exchange for book bucks toward purchase of books.
For more information about Book Rack Used Book, visit the store’s Facebook page or call 309-370-7683.