After three months, bookstore sheduled to reopen today

Published 5:37 pm Thursday, March 22, 2007

After three months of testing, evaluations and renovations, the Natchez Visitor Reception Center bookstore is scheduled to reopen today.

As they reshelved books Wednesday, bookstore employees said they were glad to be back.

Bookstore manager Deborah Cowart was one of the employees who had what appeared to be allergic reactions to the environment. She said she is feeling better and hasn’t had any reactions since she came back to work.

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The Natchez National Historical Park partners with Eastern National, which operates the bookstore.

The bookstore had to be closed in December after employees noticed a musty smell that might have been caused by mold or mildew.

Environmental tests on air samples came up neutral, but a number of surface samples taken from the bookstore and the air system showed high levels of bacteria, fungi and yeast.

Since then, the city, which owns the building, has replaced damaged drywall and has replaced the bookstore carpet with easier-to-clean tile. Maintenance is being done on the air system and small leaks found in the building are being fixed, city officials said Wednesday.

Ethel Austin, regional Eastern National manager, was helping shelve books Wednesday.

“We’re excited we’re going to be reopening the store,” she said. “We’ve made some changes since everything had to be taken out, anyway.”

One of those changes was clearing a section of the store to allow for National Park Service displays.

The new tile floor, which replaced the dark carpet, along with fresh paint make for a more inviting store, too, she said.

“It’s brighter in here,” Austin said. “It’s refreshing. When you walk in, the brightness makes the merchandise look a lot better, too.”

During renovation, some of the merchandise was moved to the center’s lobby, and sales were doing well, Austin said. Even though they lost money during the months the store was out of commission, she said she thought if sales stayed up, they could make up for the losses.

Austin said she wanted to emphasize the fact that the store was scrubbed and a healthy environment.

“We wouldn’t be here if we thought it was unsafe,” she said. “The bookstore is going to be even better than it was.”

Tourism Director Walter Tipton said he was glad the bookstore was reopening.

“We put quite a bit of money into the new flooring,” Tipton said. “It’s not just that it’s reopening, but it has a new look. I like that.”

Because a percentage of the sales from the bookstore go to the park service for specific projects, it was important to have it open, he said.

“It’s integrating money back into the tourism industry,” he said.