On Apr. 29, The End: a bookstore opened up on Tilghman Street, just minutes away from Muhlenberg’s campus. The shop’s owner, Kirsten Hess, sat down with The Weekly to talk about her business’s origin, the importance of independent bookstores and her overall love of reading.
Back in 2013, Hess opened up her first bookstore, Let’s Play Books, in Emmaus. While Hess found success with her business, she couldn’t help but notice some difficulties arising. “Let’s Play Books has always had its challenges, and mostly because it’s a small footprint of a store. It’s out of the way for most people, and…the name of our store implies children. And that’s why we had to name the other store something else,” noted Hess.
Hess also discovered that most of her customers weren’t even in the Emmaus area. Hess explained this saying, “our data from COVID times showed us where our buyers were because we have all of the data from people who purchased online. And the zip codes are in Allentown, Whitehall and believe it or not Bethlehem.” Because of these reasons, Hess knew that she needed to open up a second location to better service her buyers.
The idea to add another location at the West End of Allentown spawned from an event hosted at many Muhlenberg students’ favorite coffee shop, Nowhere Coffee Co. Let’s Play Books was hosting author Chuck Wendig at the cafe; after the event, Hess noticed a “for rent” sign at a nearby vacant retail space, which eventually became the home of The End.
“The idea to relocate to the West End of Allentown spawned from an event hosted at many Muhlenberg students’ favorite coffee shop, Nowhere Coffee Co.”
As an owner of an independent bookstore, Hess is up against some giant competitors that sell books often for a lower price and can have them shipped directly to your door. Hess remarked on this saying that consumers need to purchase their titles from “an independent bookstore, or a Barnes & Noble, just in a bookstore. Not in Target, not at Costco, not at Amazon. Because those places don’t care what books get placed on the shelf, they put what the publisher sends that is the most popular, and what’s going to sell the most the fastest.”
So, if these companies prioritize convenience, what is the point of shopping locally? Well, it is evident just from having a brief conversation with Hess that the time and effort that she puts into selecting her inventory and curating her environment is well worth every penny. Hess hand-selects every book that is in the store. Hess elaborated on this process saying, “my job is to showcase what I think our community may not see in the paper, may not see face out at a Barnes & Noble and expose them to something unique and different.”
Hess expressed her business’ emphasis on inclusion and making sure everyone who enters the store feels accepted. “Our job is just to have a little bit for everyone so that everybody feels like they belong there and they can find themselves in a book. And if they can’t find themselves in the book, we ask them to call us out on it,” said Hess.
“Our job is just to have a little bit for everyone so that everybody feels like they belong there and they can find themselves in a book. And if they can’t find themselves in the book, we ask them to call us out on it.”Kirsten Hess
Hess concluded by recommending an author that all college-aged individuals should read: A.S. King. “She basically is an author that somehow makes every teenager and young adult feel heard. Her stories are incredibly tangible, while also being magical,” elaborated Hess.
Muhlenberg students are thrilled to have a local bookstore so close to campus. Autumn Andrejczak ‘26 noted, “I pass by it everyday after coming back from Lafayette. One day I hope to stop in!” Annalise Christie ‘26 expressed similar sentiments saying, “The End is such a great spot, especially being right near Nowhere Coffee!”
So, stop by The End: a bookstore, not to check off your reading list, but to instead be introduced to a whole world of new and exciting publications that you may not have previously heard of.