Heather Halak and Kiren Valjee met at a book signing in Gainesville for Marty Jourard’s “Music Everywhere: The Rock and Roll Roots of a Southern Town.” A few months later, Valjee gave Halak the key to Third House Books & Coffee.
Valjee founded Third House Books & Coffee, an independent bookstore located in downtown Gainesville, in October 2016, just days before the presidential election.
Before working together, both Halak and Valjee experienced personal struggles but were able to make each other’s situations easier as co-owners of Third House.
“[Third House] became this place of political resistance, where people can grab a coffee and talk about how distraught they were about the [election] and the hate coming out of the woodwork,” Halak said.
She said the name, Third House, is inspired by the book “The Great Good Place” by Ray Oldenburg.
“We all have a first house where we live and a second house where we work, but there’s also a necessity for a third house where we can recover and de-stress,” she said.
Valjee and Halak emphasize that Third House is a welcoming space for all community members, especially marginalized groups.
The books in the store reflect the diversity of the community. The colorful book spines and zines that fill the walls and pop-up shelves are mostly written by women, people of color and local writers.
While there are some classics and popular books on display, Halak tries to curate Third House’s selection, so those who are not as recognized yet are prolific writers get shelf space.
“I’ve always thought of books as therapeutic and something really important for a person’s inner-life,” said Halak.
Besides managing the bookstore between 30 to 40 hours a week, Halak also works around 20 hours a week at Hear Again Records, an independent record store a few blocks down the street.
“It’s not feasible right now to run a bookstore on its own financially,” she said.
In her free time, she reads book reviews, checks out which books are up-and-coming, and communicates with local authors and others who want to collaborate for readings and events. When you own a business, there’s no time off, the co-owner said.
“It’s always rewarding when people say this is a cool space or found a book they loved based on one of our recommendations or say they had a good experience here,” Halak said. “It makes it all worth it.”