Voices of Niagara: Jeff Morrow, The Book Corner

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Jeff Morrow, interviewed on 14th April, 2018 at The Book Corner on Main Street, Niagara Falls, New York.

“My name is Jeff Morrow, I own The Book Corner here on Main Street in Niagara Falls.

Our family came into the Falls in the ‘60s and bought this store, the Book Corner, so I grew up locally, living in Hyde Park first, and then moving to Lewiston.  My earlier childhood memories are of spending my Saturdays down on Falls Street, playing, because my dad would bring me with him to work on Saturdays and I looked forward to that.  The book store is now 90 years old, it was created by Marie Fleming, who was a Canadian who had moved to Niagara Falls, New York, because she had married a banker from here, and she had the store until the ‘60s.  My father was working for another book store in Ithaca, New York, and found out that this book store had become available for sale.  He came down here, he bought it, and then I – later in life after college – came to work for him, and eventually bought him out in 2001, so I’ve owned the store for 17 years.

In the later ‘70s and early ‘80s when people became more environmentally aware, they started putting restrictions on the plants that were dumping into the river, and the resulting withdrawal of jobs  was the beginning of the end.   There was also urban renewal at the same time, where they tore down a lot of our heritage buildings downtown, not with the idea of replacing it with anything… and that was the beginning of it, with the loss of population we started losing small family businesses that had existed for years, on Main Street and on Third Street, and as they folded the city sorted of folded around them.

The majority of our buildings are empty and boarded up with not much future in sight with them, they’re deteriorating, many of them need to come down, it’s almost a ghost town that we have going right here on Main Street.

The thing with the store is, I must admit I don’t think about much outside of myself, in terms of what other businesses are going to do, who’s going to come in and who’s not going to come in.  I just concentrate on myself.  I try to create an environment that is both friendly and a home for the community, while being a retail business at the same time.  Since our store is 90 years old, many families have memories from our store, so the store means a lot for our city and also for my family at the same time.  And so that’s one of the drives I have for me to continue the legacy.

I’m an athlete, my wife calls it the Jack mentality, I really set goals for myself, not only for sports because I work out every other day, where I set goals at the gym – but also here at our store, I set goals for myself to achieve more books for the customers, better Amazon sales. We tend to have a lot of sales that way now, so I just create a book store that’s very well rounded, that a lot of people can enjoy.

We try to make (the room upstairs) a community space, so it can be used during the hours of our book store, for anybody to play the musical equipment up there, or just read, write, just relax if they like, and I let people use that free of charge for any sort of social event they want to have, whether it be drama, music, book groups, so it’s nice to have another space to offer free of charge.  We can’t use it as much in the winter because of only being able to heat this main floor, but during the months of June to November, we’ll have a constant open mike for musicians and poets and then the other events are somewhat sporadic, just depending on what we have going on.

The sad thing is I do think this store will end when I retire, which will probably be in about five years, and I’m sorry to say, it takes a lot of drive to do what I do, and I haven’t seen this drive in any of the people that have approached me with the idea that they wanted to buy the store.  My whole family has worked here at some time in their life or other, especially my father, spent over 40 years working here.  I would like to think that the store will be remembered for our family, and not handed to somebody else, where it may not be run with the same customer service orientation we have.

Without the town we would never have had the store.  We know the community has supported us throughout all of this, the ups and downs, so it (the town) will always hold a strong part in my heart, that’s why leaving it will be so hard for me, it’s a large part of my social life, that I’ll be putting aside, and so I will miss Niagara Falls when I retire.  I am very sentimental about this city in that aspect.”

This is an extract.  The full interview will shortly be available on video on You Tube.

The Book Corner

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