Sure, wine pairs great with dinner or sweets — but have you ever tried it with just the right book, asked Kansas City-born sisters La’Nesha Frazier and La’Nae Robinson.
“If I’m reading a comedy, I don’t want something dark, something like a heavy red wine. I want light. I want something fruity, I want something funny and floral,” Frazier, co-founder of Bliss Books and Wine, said of the company’s innovative take on literacy and libations.
Cracked open in 2019, Bliss Books and Wine pairs the extroverted pastime of wine tasting with the introverted intimacy of curling up with a good book — all the while promoting local artists and authors, as well as creating a community gathering space, she added.
“I was at work one day, reading a book and I really wanted to finish this chapter that I was on and I couldn’t,” Frazier recalled, noting a time she sought a break from the hectic schedule of her full-time job as a physical therapist.
“I’m a wife and a mother too. I knew as soon as I got home I wasn’t going to be able to finish that chapter — and I desperately wanted to sit and have a glass of wine and relax [with my book].”
In the days that followed, Frazier’s mind wandered, morphing ultimately into the prologue of her entrepreneurial story.
“I started trying to brainstorm, ‘Where can I go right after work?’ I need somewhere to relax, have a glass of wine and read a book — a quick little breather, maybe an hour, get a chapter or two in and then go back to mommy duties,” she said, contrasting that it’s easy for her husband to find a cigar lounge or sports bar where he can unwind.
“There was no place for me to really go to do that. I looked at a few places, I even went to the library … but they kind of frown upon you drinking wine while you’re in the library,” Frazier joked.
Frustrated, she turned to Robinson — her big sister, partner in page turning, and co-author in the entrepreneurial story that’s become Bliss Books and Wine.
“She was like, ‘Hey, we’re on to something. Let’s run with it,” Frazier said.
“I’ve found that we have fallen into our traditional roles of me coming up with ideas and telling her that she’s going to do it,” Richardson added, laughing.
“It’s perfect. We’ve been together for her entire life and it just works. We know how each other operates; we know our strengths and our weaknesses. So it’s just natural that we’re together in another aspect of our lives.”
“[A place for] local authors, local artists, local art on the wall, poetry night. We want to spotlight the talent here in Kansas City. That’s the goal,” Frazier said, noting the pair had started searching for a Midtown home for Bliss Books and Wine in the weeks before COVID-19 brought the country to a sudden pause this spring.
With their 2020 goals put on hold and Robinson — who relocated to Virginia 17 years ago — unable to make routine, monthly visits to Kansas City, the sisters got creative with scaling the business amid the pandemic.
“We were doing pop-ups and holding author events, gathering wine lovers and book enthusiasts — and then COVID hit and everything came to a screeching halt,” Frazier recalled of the stall.
“We had to pivot our tactics in how we were going to promote Bliss Books and Wine. Everything went virtual, everything went online. So we started selling books online,” she said.
Along with a change to their original sales strategy, the sisters also altered their event lineup — a change that came at just the right time, Frazier added, noting the company can now reach more people and engage more curious readers than ever before.
Among them, the team at O, The Oprah Magazine — the Hearst Publications-run print vehicle of the Oprah Winfrey empire.
“The phone rings and I’m looking at my watch and I’m in the middle of an evaluation with a new patient and I declined it. …. Then maybe 30 seconds later, my sister called and then she sent a text message and I’m looking at my watch and it says, ‘Girl that was Oprah,’” Frazier said, reenacting the moment and the excitement that came with such recognition, which ultimately resulted in an article about Black-owned bookstores.
“It was pretty cool that she wanted to sit and talk to us about our particular business. It was surreal.I got off the phone and I was shaking and I had to stress eat. I went to Cinnabon and stuffed my face with cinnamon rolls and it was … it was pretty awesome.”
Click here to read the O Magazine feature which highlights independent, Black-owned bookstores.
While 2020 might not have brought Bliss Books and Wine a cozy, serenity-filled space to call its own, it started critical conversations, Richardson added.
“2020 has been a good year for our company as far as exposure. But I do hope 2021 is better,” she laughed.
“I miss the face-to-face interaction that we were having with everyone, so I’m hoping 2021 brings that in-person, community feel back and that we can start gathering again. That’s the kind of growth we’re looking for next year.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.