by Christina Cavanaugh

When Prairie Lights was founded in 1978, it was a tiny bookstore that featured a variety of titles. With shelves’ contents spanning from classics to little-known writers, readers found recluse among the friendly atmosphere and returned time and time again to find helpful staff waiting to assist them.

Within five years of its founding, Prairie Lights relocated, giving itself room to grow upward and outward. Now nestled in the heart of Iowa City, Iowa, it boasts three and a half floors of space. The “half floor” functions as a coffee house that has seen great literary minds meet in its interior.

Not only is the store a great place for locals to unwind with a cup of coffee, it should also be a stop on any tourist’s map who’s a fan of some of the biggest writers in literary history: try Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Sherwood Anderson, Langston Hughes, and e.e. cummings on for size.

Aside from the coffeeshop’s storied history, the place is still creating a buzz today. Writers are still showing up, coming to read from their works to in-person and remote audiences who tune in by radio. On its website, Prairie Lights lists upcoming readings that have brand-new and seasoned writers alike traipsing through its doors to talk with fans.

The store isn’t entirely stuck in the past, though; it’s also got a new customer rewards program that rivals those of major chains. Subscription to its plan gives members the chances to stock up on store merchandise and enjoy exclusive sales limited to subscribers.

Prairie Lights has also partnered with Kobo to make sure that its customers who are more inclined to flip through books on their eReaders can stay satisfied, too. The platform includes both hardware, such as physical eReaders, and software that allows for reading with ease on a multitude of other pieces of technology.

Another way that the store is keeping with the times involves its radio show “Live from Prairie Lights,” where readings done by authors, surrounded by a live audience, are streamed over the internet. This radio series gives fans of authors unique, once-in-a-lifetime chances to hear them speak intimately with a small group without even having to leave their homes or cars.

Prairie Lights also lets its staff members reach out to the reading community via book recommendations in both adult and children’s titles. The store, which is open seven days a week, contains a lower-level section, which focuses on children’s works. This section is catered to make your little ones feel right at home and excite them about the possibilities of books.

If you happen to be in the area, be sure to swing by Prairie Lights and check out some of the great things that have kept it in business for 35 years…and counting!

Images courtesy of Prairie Lights

Christina Cavanaugh is a rising senior at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA., where she is a triple major in Journalism, English and Spanish. She is an editor of her school’s paper and is currently pursuing an honors thesis based on portrayal of women’s roles in British Renaissance literature. When she’s not reading,writingediting or studying, she can be found volunteering her time as an EMT-B.

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