Sara Bagby, Watermark Books and Cafe earn accolades

Sarah Bagby

Previously published in the Wichita Eagle
Article by Amy Geiszler-Jones
Photo by Jaime Green, The Wichita Eagle

While a love of books was instilled early in Sarah Bagby, being a business owner wasn’t.

“I grew up in a house of readers,” said Bagby, who owns Watermark Books and Cafe. “I didn’t grow up in a family of entrepreneurs, so the reading part was natural, the ownership wasn’t.”

While it wasn’t a natural skill, Bagby has become very successful at running an independent bookstore. Last year, Watermark Books and Cafe was named the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year among businesses with 25 or fewer employees. This year, it’s among the five nominees for the national Bookstore of the Year honor bestowed by Publishers Weekly. The winner will be named in March.

Her success can be attributed to several things: her passion for Wichita, literature and authors; her forwardthinking and strategic planning that’s helped her thrive in a business pressured by national chains, Amazon and electronic books; her staff of likeminded book lovers; and readers in the Wichita community.

Bagby started working part time for the independent bookstore in 1981 and by the mid-1990s, she was the store’s owner.

The store has become much more than a bricksand-mortar independent bookstore.

“It’s a place where people can go and find community,” said Bagby. And she likes that.

About a dozen book clubs meet monthly at Watermark, Bagby said, and local groups often use one of two basement meeting spaces – one decorated with a mural of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and the other featuring authors’ signatures.

She and her staff coordinate about 60 events and book signings, ranging from local authors to national favorites such as John Grisham, David Sedaris and Elizabeth Gilbert. Watermark has become known for not only bringing in big-name authors, but helping put emerging authors on the map. Most of the events are held at Watermark; events with a larger draw are held at other venues.

“I have this dream that every time we host a John Grisham or Liane Moriarty, all the hundreds of readers in attendance go home and read the same book,” said Bagby.

Watermark collaborates with other organizations to spread literacy and produce more readers. Working with the Wichita Community Foundation, Watermark helps send authors to Title I elementary schools – which have a high percentage of students from low-income families – and distributes free books. It also partners with The Opportunity Project to provide about 800 hardcover books for free to kids.

A previous board member of the American Booksellers Association, Bagby is starting a term on the Book Industry Charitable Foundation board that provides funds to bookstore colleagues experiencing unexpected financial hardships because of emergency or medical circumstances.

The Murdock Award for Business

To be awarded to an area business that is making a positive impact on our community by pioneering efforts to address a major community challenge or by implementing ideas which enhance opportunities for employees and positively impact our community, through the creativity and innovation employed.

Sponsored by
Wichita Eagle

Beard-building Lance Minor also growing his business

Lance Minor

Minor created the original recipes for Aero Plains’ beer. Minor and his partners have also listened to input from customers who want more variety, recently hiring a new head brewer, Troy Bervig. They’re working with a local branding agency, Gardner Design, to improve their labels and recently purchased equipment that will allow them to switch from bottles to cans. That, in turn, will allow them to release new beers more often.

Besides the Marines, Minor says another experience profoundly affected his life today. In 2014, just as he was preparing to launch Aero Plains, he contracted swine flu and spent seven weeks in a coma. “I realized that whatever connections I made with people, whether long-lasting or fleeting, I wanted to make those connections positive. Hold the door for people, help them with their groceries, stop and help someone change a tire, buy a round of beer for strangers.”

Aero Plains has raised money for the Mental Health Association, Hands of Hope, Wichita’s Littlest Heroes and women’s advocacy groups. Minor sits on the board of the Field of Brews fundraiser for Starkey, Inc. He and Aero Plains are enthusiastic participants in the Delano Fall Fair and other neighborhood events.

His goal for 2018, besides growing Aero Plains: grow his beard, although not for purposes of appearance. Minor has entered Aero Plains in the annual St. Baldrick’s Foundation head shaving event that raises money for childhood cancer research. While others shave their heads, Minor said, “I’m growing out my beard from September 2017 to April 2018 – because I can’t grow hair on top of my head.”