When independent bookstore Book World first opened in Janesville in 1986, the hottest-selling title in the world was the Stephen King horror masterwork “It”—an 1,100-page novel with a dust jacket price of $22.95.
Flash forward to 2021—35 years later—and the last paperback copy of “It” that Book World’s staff will ever order and sell, like most of its other titles, soon will be marked down to fire sale prices.
On Thursday, the independent, family-owned bookstore at 2451 Milton Ave. announced with a post on its Facebook page that it will close for good in March.
The post detailed an upcoming liquidation sale and told customers to use store gift cards by February. The post also gave a short epitaph for the longtime business that listed online sales pressure in the Amazon era along with COVID-19 supply-chain disruptions as the main factors behind the store’s decision to shutter.
“It’s been a struggle,” Book World owner Rene Purnell said Thursday, a few hours after publicly announcing the pending closure on Facebook.
Book World has survived more than a decade of sales being steadily undercut by online giants such as Amazon. But Purnell said the ongoing pandemic and its impact on the supply chain dealt the book seller and its seven employees a final blow.
“You used to be able to tell people if a (special ordered) book would be here tomorrow. You still need to be able to tell customers that, but you simply can’t now,” Purnell said. “The shippers don’t know when they can get books to you. They don’t have boxes to ship the books in. Between that and shortages on ink and manpower, I think worldwide it’s just being chalked up as a ‘book shortage.’”
Purnell said that despite greater and greater pressure by Amazon and other online merchants, children’s books and manga graphic novels have continued to sell well at brick-and-mortar stores—but only if the stores can get the books shipped to them.
That hasn’t been happening.
“The manga and graphic novels just haven’t come. They’re not printing. Some shippers say they don’t know if titles will show up at all in time for holiday sales, or if instead, it’ll be more like the summer of 2022. We just don’t know,” Purnell said. “How do you run a business that way?”
Book World is one of Janesville’s two main remaining retail bookstores. It has operated along Milton Avenue since the late 1990s but initially had locations on Main Street in Janesville and in Beloit.
Books-A-Million, a corporate chain bookseller, continues to operate at Uptown Janesville, Janesville’s main shopping mall.
Book World ended all new book orders effective Thursday, and Purnell said the store plans to liquidate books in stock in a going-out-of-business sale, with prices slashed to near cost. Books already on the discount shelf are going for even steeper markdowns.
Book World has been known locally for carrying popular bestseller titles, but it is one of the few local bookstores to focus on selling books by local authors.
The pandemic has forced Book World for more than a year to suspend book signings and appearances by local authors, which in turn has made those titles more difficult for the store and self-published authors to market, Purnell said.
Purnell said she had been on the phone all day with local authors who she said she has asked to come and pick up their unsold inventory.
“All those people with local books, you can’t sell those books at 40% off, and we won’t,” Purnell said.
Purnell’s husband, Tom Purnell, operates Southern Wisconsin News, a magazine distribution company that was established in Edgerton in 1932 by Tom’s grandfather, who for a time delivered magazines using a motorcycle with a side car.
Purnell said that Southern Wisconsin News will continue its own operations even after the family’s bookstore closes.
Longtime customers and local authors have started calling Purnell to wish her well as she winds down operations, probably by the end of March. She said many of the phone calls were tearful.
“We’re super sad about all the regulars that have patronized us over the years who we’ve built personal relationships with. That’s kept us alive. We’re all human beings with feelings. With our regulars, we’ve shared weddings, funerals, all kinds of social interactions,” Purnell said.
“That’s what really breaks my heart.”
Glen H. “Sonny” Demrow Jr.
John E. Gibbons
Elsie May Johnson
Barbara Jean Martinson
Penny Lee Miller
Kendra F. Roehl
Richard Mitchell Sadus
Nancy M. Sanders
Lois C. Schulze
Frank Alan Synowski
Malcolm D. Thoms
Michelle L. “Shellie” Wintlend
William P. Zentner
Janesville-area schools are experiencing a sharp increase in the number of students infected with COVID-19 or quarantined due to exposure to the coronavirus—with most exposure occurring outside school walls.
Janesville School District Superintendent Steve Pophal said there were more COVID-19 cases involving students in the first two weeks of November than were recorded in both September and October.
The spike in coronavirus cases isn't only affecting local schools, he said, pointing to the increasing rates of infection throughout Rock County. Infection rates are reaching highs not seen here since January.
Pophal said that as of Tuesday, 208 Janesville students were out of school and quarantined due to exposure to one or more infected people. He said only a small percentage of those students are believed to have been exposed to the virus in a classroom setting.
As of Wednesday, according to the school district’s online dashboard, there were 33 students who tested positive for COVID-19 and 17 additional students under quarantine who were exposed to the virus while in school.
Most of the infections and exposure cases were the result of interactions in homes, public settings or other after-school gatherings.
While the school district enforces a universal masking mandate for students and staff on school grounds, students’ masking habits off campus can’t be controlled.
“What I can tell everyone is that we have approximately 1,000 students and staff who come into our buildings every day and the numbers we see with COVID, we’re seeing sharply increasing,” Pophal said.
“As the numbers in the community go up, so do the numbers in the district.”
While county health officials recommend the wearing of masks, not all area school districts require everyone remain masked, either in classrooms, at sports events or at other inter-district gatherings.
Pophal said he and the Janesville School Board remain steadfast that county COVID-19 infection metrics will continue to guide their decisions.
“Our board chooses to say we’re going to wear masks based on how the quarantine requirements are set up from the health department,” he said.
Without mask requirements, Pophal said the rate of infection among students would increase dramatically.
The FDA recently authorized vaccinations for children age 5 to 11. The inoculation of elementary-age students has the potential to further reduce COVID-19 exposure outside schools. It is still too early for the district to report measurable rates of vaccination among that younger age group.
Janesville school communication specialist Patrick Gasper encouraged Rock County families to get their eligible children vaccinated. He said the district’s intent is to lift mask requirements when infection rates decrease and vaccination rates increase.
He said this approach is part of “a comprehensive effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom.”
Pophal added, “The vast majority of kids learn best when they can come to school, and so we’re doing everything we can to keep kids in class.”
State health officials continue to urge young people to get vaccinated as under-18 Wisconsinites represent the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The jury at Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder trial deliberated for a third full day without reaching a verdict Thursday, while the judge banned MSNBC from the courthouse after a freelancer for the network was accused of following the jurors in their bus.
The jury members will return this morning to resume their work. Unlike on previous days, they had no questions and no requests to review any evidence Thursday in the politically and racially fraught case.
Rittenhouse, 18, is on trial for killing two men and wounding a third with a rifle during a turbulent night of protests that erupted in Kenosha in the summer of 2020 after a Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by a white police officer.
Even as the jury weighed the evidence, two mistrial requests from the defense hung over the case with the potential to upend the verdict if the panel were to convict Rittenhouse. One of those requests asks the judge to go even further and bar prosecutors from retrying him.
Also Thursday, Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder banned MSNBC after police said they briefly detained a man who had followed the jury bus and may have tried to photograph jurors.
NBC News said in a statement that the man was a freelancer who received a citation for a traffic violation that took place near the jury vehicle, and he “never photographed or intended to photograph them.”
Before the jurors retired around 4 p.m. at what the judge said was their own request, one of them asked if she could take the jury instructions home, and the judge said yes but told her she couldn’t talk to anyone about them. Before deliberations, Schroeder read the jury some 36 pages of instructions on the charges and the laws of self-defense.
After the jury departed, Rittenhouse attorney Mark Richards told the judge he feared that letting members take home instructions would lead to jurors looking things up in the dictionary or doing their own research.
Tom Grieve, a Milwaukee attorney and former prosecutor not involved in the case, called the move “definitely unusual in my experience.” “The natural issue is that it will precipitate armchair research and table discussion,” he said.
At the end of the day, jurors looked tired, but no more than they did at the end of their first day. No one seemed visibly upset. Two jurors spoke genially to each other as they walked out the door.
Rittenhouse was a 17-year-old former police youth cadet when he went to Kenosha in what he said was an effort to protect property after rioters set fires and ransacked businesses on previous nights.
He shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, now 28. Rittenhouse is white, as were those he shot.
Rittenhouse said he acted in self-defense after coming under attack, while prosecutors argued he instigated the bloodshed.
The case has exposed deep divides among Americans over guns, racial injustice, vigilantism and self-defense in the U.S.
To some civil rights activists, the shootings were an attack on the movement for racial justice, and some have complained of a racial double standard in the way Rittenhouse was treated by law enforcement that night.
The defense has twice asked the judge to declare a mistrial, alleging that they were given an inferior copy of a potentially crucial video and that the prosecution asked improper questions of Rittenhouse during cross-examination.
Schroeder has said the mistrial bid will have to be addressed if there is a guilty verdict. If Rittenhouse is acquitted, the dispute won’t matter. But if he is convicted and the judge then declares a mistrial, that would void the verdict.
Rittenhouse could get life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him.