Kim and Keith Bierly are a 45-minute drive away from anywhere, and the ride is a beauty down Route 192.
The Bierlys own Forefathers Book Shop and Main Street Yarn in Rebersburg, a small slice of central Pennsylvania at a point somewhere between State College and Lewisburg.
“The basic premise is the forefathers, the founders of the country, because that’s my background in government and politics,” Keith Bierly said.
The store houses a 30,000-book bookstore and small yarn shop in what used to be a bank. They opened it April 11, 2013, for the history buffs, fiction fans and kids that want to read, plus everyone who likes to knit.
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Q: Why’d you open these two businesses?
Keith: I always loved books. I left state government when Gov. (Ed) Rendell left, so I thought it was a good post-government career. I went to book sales. I grew up here in Rebersburg, which seemed like a nice place to locate.
Kim: I started learning to knit when I was four, but got away from it for many years. I got back into it a little in college, which led to another gap, and in 2000 I started again and haven’t stopped. I started a knitting group, The Penns Valley Area Knitters, about 12 years ago. Over the years from talking to them I knew they wanted another yarn shop, because everyone likes more choices. I do have a full-time job besides the shop, but it’s always been a passion of mine. When (Keith) became interested in opening a book shop he said, “Let’s see what we can find to do together.” I like reading, too, so it’s hard to knit and read at the same time. (laughs)
Q: How’s it going three years later?
Keith: We’re doing well. Obviously, any small business is challenging. Our location, people come in here all the time and say it should be an urban bookstore. People are always amazed at the quality for where we are located. We had people from Lewisburg and Tyrone in here today and another couple from Maryland, so our customer base isn’t just Penns Valley or Centre County. It’s a central part of the state. They say that Penn State is equally accessible from anywhere, and we’re 45 minutes from State College, Bellefonte, Lock Haven, Lewistown, and people from all over find us.
Q: Who usually comes in here?
Keith: Our customer base is primarily senior citizens. I wish more young people read more, because I think someday they’ll regret it if they don’t. ... I think it’s important that people read, and that’s why we’re here. I’m satisfied with where we’re at. I never would have done it as a full-time occupation 20 to 30 years ago, but we’re happy and pleased with how we’re growing.
Q: Why’d you pick Rebersburg for the businesses?
Keith: It’s not only my hometown — 225 years ago my great-great-great-great-grandfather laid this road out here. My great-grandfather built the church across the street. I grew up a block down the street. The Bierlys have been here for over two centuries, and when the bank became available I thought it had great possibilities.
Kim: Banks are also very sturdy buildings, and you know books are very heavy. You have to pick a very specific location that’s going to hold tens of thousands books.
Q: How many books do you have?
Keith: We have about 30,000 in the shop right now and another 10,000 to 12,000 off-site that we’re waiting to bring in to mix and match. We have books here that sell between $2 and $900, just individual books. Some of the older books are obviously very valuable, and the mass media books are just cheaper items that you’ll get cheaper here than you would on the Internet, because online you’ve still got to pay for shipping. We also do well online.
The Bierlys have been here for over two centuries, and when the bank became available I thought it had great possibilities.
Keith Bierly, owner of Forefathers Book Shop
Q: How did you two accumulate so many books?
Keith: I’ve been to over 300 sales in the past five years. Now I’m buying estates, and the books are finding me. People call me up and they have an estate where they want to get rid of the books. Sometimes they have thousands and thousands of books, so I’ve learned the wholesale route from New York to North Carolina. I usually buy in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. Again, people call every week and ask if we’re interested in hundreds of books. It’s a labor of love. Organizing them can be a challenge. We have a couple of employees that help us keep organized.
Q: How do you run the yarn business?
Kim: I think we’re also both organized people focused on our individual shops, and we do help each other. We’re separate businesses together. I work full time Monday through Friday. I think (Keith has) learned and his employees have learned more about yarn than they ever wanted to. I specialize in indie-dyers, people who dye at home and sell small quantities. That way I keep my inventory fresh. I have my basics, my staples that will always be there, but I’m always bringing in something new and affordable.
Q: Who taught you how to knit?
Kim: Family members. Basically it was to keep me out of their knitting bag. So, they taught me how to knit. And I did it again in high school and college, and I became a reporter for a lot of years and then I was at Penn State. When I picked it up again in 2000 I wanted to learn how to knit socks. I just really haven’t stopped.
Q: Do you make things for people?
Kim: No. Knitting takes so many hours, and I just don’t have it. If I make a shop model, it’s usually for a family member, a friend or myself. Sometimes some companies send you a free shop model if you order enough. The indie-dye yarns are so beautiful and multi-colored that they sell themselves. We have very creative knitters and crocheters and weavers in this area.
Q: You guys have a vault in here. What are people’s reactions to it?
Keith: People really fall for this vault, and we keep it opened. One gentleman today was insistent that I tell him how much the vault door weighed, and I don’t have a clue. There are so many people that want to buy the vault door, but I don’t want to start dismantling the building. It’s a fun feature in a really great building.
Q: What are your favorite books and your favorite things to make knitting?
Keith: My favorites would be biographies of JKF by his staff at the time, Schlesinger, Sorensen and Salinger. I like Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking Tales” and Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” books you can’t put down.
Kim: Socks are my favorite things to knit. I just love it. My license plate is “knitsox,” so they’re my favorite things to knit. I knit a lot of other things, but that’s my favorite.