Marci Murff has lived Downtown for three years, but even before relocating, she frequently ventured in to experience world-class theatre and opera. Since the pandemic hit, Murff and her family have tried to consciously support local businesses and explore all that Downtown has to offer. An earnest reader and literacy advocate, Murff realized that Houston’s historic Downtown, though rich in entertainment options, was missing one crucial lifestyle offering: an independent bookstore within walking distance.
“For as big as Houston is, there are shockingly few indie bookstores and even fewer that you can get to on foot in Downtown,” Murff says of her inspiration. But with a pandemic on and small businesses suffering, opening a storefront seemed aspirational at best. A traditional brick-and-mortar operation was off the table, so Murff would have to reinvision what a neighborhood bookstore could be.
Forgoing a physical location meant no commercial rent to pay, which, she reasoned, freed up a budget for the community outreach efforts that she wanted to help foster.
“‘How can we be a community bookstore and still be what people need right now?’” she asked herself.
In September of 2020, the Neighborhood Bookshop Online made its debut, offering online ordering and free contactless delivery within the Houston Metro Area. Each order is also hand wrapped in artist-designed, sustainable wrapping paper that is 100 percent recyclable or biodegradable.
There’s a charitable aspect, too. Portions of the shop’s sales go to support various local organizations, like Literacy Now, Meals on Wheels, Greater Houston Arts Relief Fund, Project Row Houses, Trees for Houston, BakerRipley, the Montrose Center, and more. People can even shop according to which cause they want to support on the website.
So far, the reception on social media and from local patrons has been enthusiastically supportive. “I’ve been amazed by all of the shares we’ve gotten and people reaching out with heartwarming messages telling us how much they appreciate the personal touches. We believe in the Shop Local movement and receiving positive feedback like this from our customers is so rewarding,” Murff says.
And you better believe that she’s sourcing books and other items for the shop from small businesses and local makers. “Amazon became so easy during the pandemic. People want to shop local, but how can we make it easier and more accessible?” In addition to a wide range of books, Murff carries homemade goods and toys that are organic and eco-friendly.
The bookshop has already partnered with Day 6 Coffee Co. to offer free order pickup—and help drive foot traffic to a fellow local business. What’s next for Murff and the Market Square Bookshop? More community and nonprofit collaborations and hopefully future programming ranging from story time in the park, author signings and guest speakers to urban meetings and maybe even a bird watching tour of Downtown. “The idea is to use what already exists in the city to bring people together in new ways.”