Innisfree makes a big, if short, move

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After five years in the same location, Innisfree Poetry Bookstore and Cafe got new, more spacious digs directly across the street.
Susan France

Moving can be a scary word for independent businesses and their customers. Sometimes shops close their doors and reopen miles away, out of reach to their original customer base. It can be like starting all over. Other relocations are less threatening, Innisfree being a good example.

Earlier this year, the poetry-centric bookstore and café, on University Hill moved from its original location at 1203 13th Street to its new spot at 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue. While the street names may have changed, the new location is actually just across the street from the old one in the former Hill location of Buchanan’s coffee.

Husband and wife and founding owners Kate Hunter and Brian Buckley say they were offered a longer lease at the new location than the one-year term they could have secured if they’d stayed put. And along with a longer lease, the new location came with a little more elbow room for customers, readings and performances. After settling in to the new space, Hunter and Buckley are pleased.

“[The previous location] was tighter in some ways, but everyone made it work though,” Buckley says. “Like it wasn’t necessarily a negative hanging out there, and people were excited to be in an independent shop around books and readings and events. This is a little more natural for humans to congregate and celebrate and listen and things like that.”

Buckley and Hunter have made modifications to the new building, such as removing plaster to reveal more of the original red brick walls. They also added a moving bookshelf that can create a more intimate space when placed in the middle of the room but can be moved to the front or side of the space for events.

The new location has enough room for an oven and the equipment necessary to make cold-brewed nitrogen coffee. Along with other new menu items, the new location has big windows and outdoor seating.
“We love the porch,” Buckley says. “We love this patio facing south with the sun. It’s inviting, you see the flow to campus and off campus. It’s nice to sit outside.”

After 20 years of high school teaching, Buckley was ready for a change. So in 2010, he and Hunter, a certified massage therapist, opened Innisfree. It was an act of faith to be sure, considering it is one of only four poetry bookstores in the U.S. according to  Buckley.

Though just a stone’s throw away, switching to the new location still came with anxiety for the owners.  But time, the encouragement offered by employees and the positive response of customers to the new digs have all but evaporated their fears.

“We’ll be the first to tell you, we’re not the most seasoned, polished business people,” Buckley says. “So we were nervous about the transition and the anxiety. We’d love to tell you we could’ve known, ‘Oh, it was going to work out perfect and things were going to look artistic and lovely.’ We didn’t know all that. And we’re thrilled. We’re thrilled how it came out.”

Innisfree hosts readings, musical performances and group writing events almost every week. The shop also opens its doors to middle school and high school English-class field trips, which allow young students to peruse Innisfree’s book collection and read their own writings in an authentic poetic space.

“We’re thrilled when teenagers, or even younger [people come in],” Buckley says. “We have a middle school coming in May. When that stuff happens, we think it can be powerful now, but it can also be powerful, maybe not now, but when they look back, ‘Whoa I read a poem, not in my classroom, but in a space in the town I live.’ And poetry’s a little less foreign later in life, in high school or college.”

A percentage of Innisfree’s profits go to the Northern Arizona Native American Foundation, which gives scholarships to Native American students. And their coffee comes from ethical, socially-conscience organizations and is roasted locally.

“It’s been a fantastic thing,” Buckley says about Innisfree’s coffee sourcing. “And we’ve always said, all along, that if you’re going to have a poetic enterprise, a poetic endeavor, what comes in the shop has to match some of that search and journey.”

During a time when bookstores nationwide are going out of business, Buckley is grateful for Boulder’s supportive community.

“I would like the public to know, ‘Thank you,’” Buckley says. “We are full of gratitude, and we hope people continue to discover us because we know we’re still a small shop, not downtown. And we hope they continue to support us because we love it. Some meaningful things happen inside the shop and we’d love them to continue to happen.”