When former biologist Jena Best decided to look for a new career opportunity after seven years at Kemin Industries, she thought about her favorite bookstore in San Francisco.
She would love to work at a place like the City Lights bookstore, she told her husband Adam, but said there was nothing like it in Des Moines.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you make one?’” She said.
On June 1, she quit her job at Kemin to devote herself full time to the launch Raccoon River Press, currently an independent, online-only bookseller and soon a local publisher.
Raccoon River Press officially launched on April 5. Best said much of her learning to run the business, but received help along the way from Alice Meyer of Beaverdale Books and Abbey Paxton of Storyhouse Bookpub.
Meyer said she always thought there was room for more bookstores in the metro area.
“When you can get more people to read, it’s always a good thing,” Meyer said.
Best’s online selections bet on popular titles, local authors and non-fiction books. Anything she hasn’t can be asked for, she said.
She is too accept submissions on their website by interested authors, poets or photographers. She said she was flexible in the work she would take on, but was particularly interested in local writers and stories.
“My first goal is to try to bring some diversity to the publishing market,” she said. “Unfortunately, I think that with our flyover area, a lot of things tend to be missed or ignored in favor of authors who might live closer to the big publishers on the coasts. A lot of the books also center on them. coasts and it’s like over there are stories to be told here from the people who are here. “
Over the summer, Best hosted a few pop-ups at breweries around the metro, including Firetrucker Brewery in Ankeny. Shelby Antelman, head of the rec room, said she and Best had teamed up to start a free book club.
“It’s just to bring people together at a time when it’s pretty hard to come together,” Antelman said. “We’re just trying, slowly but surely, to get people to experience it and get people to talk again.”
The first club meeting will take place in the brewery’s tap room at 7 p.m. October 7. This month’s book is “The House in the Cerulean Sea,” and Antelman said readers will have a say in next month’s selection.
Best, who lives in the Des Moines area with her husband, young son Lochlan and dogs Mya and Piper, will also have a stall at the Valley Junction Farmers Market for the remainder of September, September 23-30, where the customers can buy books and learn more about the business.
She hopes to eventually establish a brick and mortar location in West Des Moines. Beaverdale Books and, more recently, Storyhouse Bookpub have filled a need for book lovers in Des Moines and north of the city, but Best wants to become the must-see independent bookstore in the western suburbs.
“Here in West Des Moines, Waukee and Clive, there really isn’t a local place and I would like Raccoon River Press to become that local place,” she said.