By Laura Anne Bird | Photography by Hillary Schave
Rye Kimmett is still astonished that her bookshop — which she opened in November 2020 — has made it.
“COVID-19 was raging, we were protesting for Black Lives and everything felt very bleak,” Kimmett says. “But I needed to put something good into the world, and the perfect spot opened up, so I just did it.”
She had dreamed about running a bookshop since she was a child, spending every recess in her school library. “I reached out to other independent bookstore owners for advice, and they gave it. There were no worries of competition, just joy at the prospect of another indie shop existing in the Madison area,” she says.
Kimmett had spent her career working in a hospital emergency department, so transitioning to bookselling wasn’t easy; plus, she had a toddler at home. But she did her research, wrote a business plan and carefully curated her opening book order.
“Kismet happened because I really wanted it to exist. I’m incredibly privileged to have made it a reality.”
From the start, Kimmett knew she wanted a brick-and-mortar storefront. “The best bookshops are those that have character. You can’t get whimsy like that from a website.”
Kimmett says that Kismet’s location on Main Street in Verona has been a major factor in the shop’s success. “Visibility and foot traffic are high. Plus, our lovely, historic, brick building has allowed us the space to
do some odd and wonderful things, like planting a native prairie and raising chickens. Now if only I could convince my landlord to sell it to me, we could really crank it up to 11!”
However, being a business owner means handling it all, admits Kimmett.
“I get to indulge in long, bookish conversations with customers approximately 4% of the time,” she laments. “Kismet’s a business. There are a lot of moving parts and people counting on me, and I take them seriously.”
Although she spends many late nights working on operational details — which leaves her feeling tired and sometimes frustrated — she thinks of the little kids who visit Kismet.
“They’re going to grow up reading books that I put in their hands. They’ll know what it’s like to be completely welcomed and loved in a space that’s filled with stories. So, I keep going.”