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Designing a New Chapter in Iowa

A book lover builds her dream business

It's no mistake that Linzi Murray wound up as the owner of Reading in Public Bookstore & Café, an independent bookstore in Des Moines. Deep down, she always knew it would be this way. But like any great story, the way she got there was the furthest thing from a straight line. It’s those zigs and zags that make life interesting, and it’s what led one book-loving girl from Shawnee, Kansas, on her journey from a Kansas City suburb to Iowa, then to dream-chasing in New York City and back again.

While “Read Books and Be Kind to People” is Linzi’s store motto, it’s also the mentality and way of life she’s sharing with everyone here.

Chapter 1: Drake University

Linzi standing behind a Drake University sign in her cap and gownWhen Linzi’s family pushed for college in Kansas, Linzi paved her own path in choosing to go to college in Iowa instead. After some research on out-of-state schools, Linzi found Drake University. The campus instantly felt like home and was the initial reason she fell in love with Des Moines. It’s also where she met her future husband, Ying Chyi Gooi.

“I fell in love with Drake immediately,” Linzi said. “I love its sense of community, being able to build my major and also the support we had from professors.”

Linzi graduated with her B.A. in painting and graphic design in 2017. Although she would close the chapter on Iowa for the time being, Linzi always left a bookmark, knowing she’d eventually move back to put down roots and start a family.

“Des Moines was the first home Gooi and I made for ourselves,” Linzi said. “We love the size of it and how everyone knows each other; it’s an interconnectedness that doesn’t exist elsewhere.”

Chapter 2: Chasing Her Dreams

Just a week after graduation, Linzi and Gooi packed up and moved to New York City with nothing but a dream and desire to explore new opportunities. As a book lover, Linzi jumped at the chance to work as a freelance designer for an author.

Linzi and Gooi sitting on chairs looking at each otherLiving in Brooklyn, the couple launched their careers and loved absorbing all the city had to offer – then COVID hit. Not only were Linzi and Gooi now confined to the walls of their small apartment, but they were also no longer able to indulge in their favorite pastime of visiting bookstores.

“When all the bookstores closed, I couldn’t have anticipated that it felt like a part of my soul closed off,” Linzi said. “We didn’t even have a car, so we were stuck. Ordering groceries was like trying to get tickets for a Taylor Swift concert.”

Looking back at life in New York City, Linzi gained confidence, entrepreneurial instincts, and a deep understanding of the importance and power of community. But, she realized it was hard to justify paying $3,000/month for an apartment while surrounded by noise and traffic congestion.

She started planning her return to Iowa.

Chapter 3: Dreams to Reality

Despite everything being shut down, Linzi tried to go out as much as possible and found herself reading in public places. That inspired her Bookstagram account, where she posted pictures of all the places she read, wrote book reviews and engaged with the online book community. As a frequent patron of bookstores, she also started filing away preferences and ideas that she’d like to include in her own bookstore someday.

Bookshelves inside the book storeOnce the idea of opening a bookstore entered Linzi’s mind, she immediately jumped into action. Just a few days later, she filed for an LLC for a bookstore in Iowa called “Reading in Public,” a nod to the hashtag “#ReadingingPublic” that she often used for Bookstagram. She reached out to the Historic Valley Junction director and began making plans to start her business even before making plans to move.

“I knew it was the only place I wanted to be. I loved the historic aspect, the connection to the underground railroad – it’s so rich in history,” Linzi said. “Also, the Historic Valley Junction Foundation was extremely supportive in helping me get up and running, which I appreciated.”

She then took a trip to Des Moines to search for a space and met with local bookstore owners, where she was overwhelmed by the instant support and enthusiasm that followed her back to the east coast.

“Normally I would feel that pride of calling New York City home,” Linzi said. “But the day I flew back from Des Moines, I was feeling it differently, and that’s when I went, ‘OK it is time to leave.’”

Chapter 4: Return to Iowa

From there, Linzi and Gooi returned to Des Moines and officially opened Reading in Public Bookstore & Café on January 14, 2023. Linzi loved being able to use her design skills to personalize the space.

“I've infused my store with all these parts of myself: my creativity, love of illustration, experiential design, the color pink and my adoration of NYC bookstores. I'm also a transracially adopted Chinese American woman who knows from experience the importance of seeing oneself represented in the world around them, especially in books and media,” Linzi said.

Linzi credits the bookstore community and main street district as a huge aid in getting her business off the ground, alongside mentorship from the Iowa Small Business Development Center.

Linzi and Gooi standing in the bookstore looking at their baby“What’s great about being in the book industry is that we are surrounded by other book lovers, and we know the more bookstores there are, the better our community is served,” Linzi said. “We all support each other, and I consider all the other bookstore owners in town my friends.”

Even previous Drake professors stop by to see her graphic design major come to life through her bookstore.

Reflecting on the past year, Linzi said her proudest moments come from partnering with various organizations throughout the community and becoming a mom to her adorable son Liam.

“Des Moines was my first home away from home, and I am proud to now raise my family here,” Linzi said. “It’s a place where I feel I can contribute to the community and have a positive impact.”

Her bookstore’s motto, “Read Books and Be Kind to People,” was inspired by the belief that when people read, the more empathetic they become, making the world a better place.

Published January 12, 2024

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