Owner of bookstore down the street from Covenant School opens doors to community: 'If you don't know where to go, come here'

"You’re welcome here, today and all the other days," says the award-winning novelist.

FILE - Novelist Ann Patchett poses in her independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, in Nashville, Tenn., on June 25, 2020. President Joe Biden will award Patchett with the 2021 National Humanities Medal on March 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
Novelist Ann Patchett released a powerful video the day after the Covenant School shooting. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Ann Patchett is helping Nashville mourn with books and dogs.

On Tuesday, the novelist shared that her bookstore, Parnassus Books, is open to the community in the wake of the mass shooting at the Covenant School, which claimed the lives of three children and three adults.

While the team had closed the store in the wake of Monday's tragedy, a planned event for families and their dogs to celebrate the latest release of Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man went on as planned Mar. 28, serving as an opportunity for those grieving to swing by and, hopefully, create opportunities for healing.

“We just want to send out our love to our friends and our neighbors and our customers at the Covenant School down the street,” an emotional Patchett, holding her dog Sparky VanDevender, said in a video shared to Twitter. “We’re not here to sell you books. We’re here because we love you and we’re your friends and we’re a place to come. We want you here with us. So, if you don’t know what to do today and you don’t know where to go, come here and be with us and hold a dog and just know that we care.”

Patchett, who was recently awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Joe Biden, echoed those sentiments to Yahoo Life while touching on the importance of creating safe havens for communities in mourning.

"One of the many wonderful things about independent bookstores is that they give us a place to be,” she says. "We celebrate at Parnassus, we dance, we launch wonderful books, we host story time readings. Today we mourn."

“Sometimes you need a place to go when you’re alone or with your family or wanting to meet friends,” she adds. “Sometimes you need a place to go when you want to hide, when you can’t imagine what could possibly make you feel better, when you don’t feel like being by yourself. Sometimes you just need to hold a book or hold a dog. Sometimes you go to a bookstore because you’re looking for a particular book and sometimes you go to a bookstore because it’s the only place you can think of that makes any sense.”

Sarah Arnold, marketing and communications director for Parnassus, was present in the store as news of the shooting unfolded. She remembers the stress her team felt as they realized the tragedy happened at the Covenant School, where many of their customers have personal ties.

“We were all in shock. You don’t know what to do with yourself, and you feel pretty helpless,” she tells Yahoo Life. “Since we opened in 2011, we have always had the goal to not just be a bookstore, but a place for the community to gather, whether that's during author events or for something like our Dog Man celebration. On any given day, we want to be a place where people can meet and feel happy and at peace among fellow readers.”

That’s why, Arnold says, she and Patchett thought it was important to open up their doors for others who are grieving as a way to show unity and compassion and to lead by example so other small businesses can do their part as well.

“Small businesses are unique because we have such strong community ties,” Arnold explains. “It’s really important in times like these to reach out to your community and hold them close, and let them know that you have a space where they can just be. We are in a unique position to be able to do that.”

That was especially clear on Monday, when Arnold and her team found themselves at the center of the scene, as rows of firetrucks lined their street. Even more emotional was the fact that Parnassus happened to be close to the reunification center, where parents were told to wait to be reunited with their children.

“That’s why we made the decision to close [on Monday],” she explains, “out of respect for what had happened to those families who lost loved ones, and also just to keep the roads clear for emergency vehicles and the parents trying to reunite with their children.”

“But today we're back,” she notes. “We want to be that place for folks to come and let kids be kids for a minute, let parents feel like their kids can enjoy themselves in public and give the parents a minute of peace as well.”

As for Patchett, she says simply being present right now for those who need it is the most important thing.

“We love our community in joy and in sorrow,” she tells Yahoo Life. “We just want you to know you’re welcome here, today and all the other days, at Parnassus and at all the other bookstores. I’m the spokesperson for independent bookstores so I feel comfortable saying this: no matter where you are, we want you here with us.”

“Reach out to your community and let them know that you're there and that you care about them,” adds Arnold. “That's really all we can do right now.”

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