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Downtown bookstore hosts nightly events to spread culture

A door that exposes one to a house filled with books. Visitors pass the bright-colored shelves that lead to the backyard containing many chairs and a wooden stage. A place where people gather to experience literature and music was in jeopardy last year.

Community members feared the bookstore's possible closing after break-ins. So they organized a cash mob to help keep its doors open, Lawn Gnome Publishing owner Aaron Hopkins-Johnson says.

“So I guess on one end, I wasn’t really prepared for it but at the same time the community really helped out,” Hopkins-Johnson says. “That was kind of neat.”

Lawn Gnome Publishing, located at 905 N. Fifth St., hosts backyard events on a weekly basis that combine music, literature and art to educate the community.

The backyard is complete with a stage, chairs, fire pit and speakers, says Lawn Gnome Publishing employee Lauren Kelley.

Photo by Shelby Hyde. Photo by Shelby Hyde.

Tuesdays are free movie nights that often present non-mainstream movies.

Wednesdays feature themed storytelling and Thursdays host the Phoenix Education Programming Rally. Both events cost $5, Kelley says.

The rally is “an educational program that incorporates the arts into education to make it fun and a lot easier to learn for some people,” Kelley says.

“It’s a different theme every week, but it’s comedy, poetry and music all about a central topic,” Hopkins-Johnson says of the rally. “It’s basically like watching an encyclopedia or Wikipedia entry live right in front of your eyes.”

There are no requirements on who can perform at these events; however, the act must relate to that week’s theme, Kelley says.

Toward the end of February, the store will start the “Pink Slip Open Mic” on Mondays, to give people an opportunity to perform on the stage even if they have never done it before, Hopkins-Johnson says. The event is free to attend.

Kelley, who recently started working at the bookstore, says she enjoys these events most of all.

“I love the events because it’s everybody in the community coming together to spread art and music and poetry,” she says.

Journalism sophomore Hattie Hayes says she likes hosting the rally and it has been quite the success.

These events and the business itself are geared toward an “all-ages crowd” as well as a “non-drinking crowd,” Hopkins-Johnson says.

“The students obviously are my favorite group for that because 18- to 20-year-olds aren’t drinking in public or anything yet, so it’s good to drag them into a place that’s a safe place,” Hopkins-Johnson says.

Hopkins-Johnson says it’s nice to have a place where college students can unwind from their studies and still have a college experience at night.

This bookstore has continued to grow since it started as a zine shop three years ago, Hopkins-Johnson says.

Zines are similar to pamphlets and are used to put ideas and ethics out to the public, he says.

Hopkins-Johnson says over the years he’s added more shelves and sold more used books.

“We’re just constantly growing,” he says.

Hopkins-Johnson says a huge part of his business is derived from students. He says they come to purchase classic novels, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” needed for classes.

Hayes, who hosts the rally, says, “You get a wide variety of people there as opposed to a traditional bookstore that holds a corporate pattern.”

Hopkins-Johnson says he started the business from scratch, but it is founded on DIY (do it yourself) ethics he learned from his previous working experiences.

“I took all the information I had from zine trading, publishing and working as a back-room manager of a bookstore, applied it to my business here,” Hopkins-Johnson says.

Some of the bookstore's DIY ethics are founded in “punk rock” and in that “anyone could create,” Hopkins-Johnson says.

“The ideas are let’s create an aesthetic that’s not completely professional,” Hopkins-Johnson says. “Let’s create stuff that’s more like folk art or punk rock. Not only is it easily accessible for us to create, but it’s also easy for everyone to understand.”

“Start now, start small and that’s really what Lawn Gnome’s all about: bringing up a community, bringing up a city, so that we can all say we’re a cultural capital,” Hopkins-Johnson says.

Reach the writer at or via Twitter @ShelbyHyde

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