Burlington Mayor Ian Baltutis and his wife, Dr. Kristina Baltutis, purchased Persnickety Books on Feb. 12 in hopes of fostering a sense of community within the walls of the used bookstore and in the wider Burlington community. 

“The bookstore has become a staple in the community,” Baltutis said. “Everybody has a different reason why they love coming to the bookstore, whether it is the genres of books or the adventures of exploring the shelves.”

Persnickety Books has been part of the Historic Downtown Burlington area at 117 W. Davis St. since 2017 when the previous owners, Shawna Dron-Gentert and Herb Gentert, opened it. Once the Genterts put the bookstore up for sale, the Baltutises saw it as an opportunity to preserve the space as a safe and welcoming area for community members to explore, learn and socialize.

Everybody has a different reason why they love coming to the bookstore, whether it is the genres of books or the adventures of exploring the shelves

Burlington Mayor Ian Baltutis

One way in which the Baltutises aim to improve the community as the new owners is by offering part-time employment opportunities for former felons. By partnering with Benevolence Farms and Sustainable Alamance, Persnickety Books strives to help former felons transition back into the community and feel more invested in the area so they are less likely to end up back in prison. 

“When folks come out of prison, they’ve got a criminal record,” Baltutis said. “It can be really hard for them to find employment, which makes it particularly hard to pay their rent, pay child support and be able to support their families.”

With the bookstore’s new program, Baltutis said he wants to reduce possible challenges for former felons as they strive to improve their lives by providing a source of income and helping them take ownership of their lives.

Former felons will begin their professional journey by working at the store’s off-site book processing location so that the bookstore maintains its safe environment. Baltutis said if the workers prove to be viable contributors to the business, they might progress to the bookstore as sales associates. 

The new program to employ former felons aligns with the bookstore’s new motto, “Giving books and people a second chance.” Just like the bookstore reuses books so other visitors can enjoy the materials, it also strives to give former felons a clean slate to begin their path toward a more promising future.

Kaitlin Zuleta, a Gibsonville resident born and raised in Burlington, said the bookstore’s new initiative to help former felons restore their reputations augments the bookstore’s appeal and its contribution to the community. 

“I think it’s wonderful to have a way to try to help people have a second chance,” Zuleta said. “I think as long as people want to do better for themselves and change the path of their lives, people should support that.”

A stack of books located in Persnickety Books, which was recently purchased by Burlington Mayor Ian Baltutis. [Cory Weller]

Zuleta said the mayor’s trust and guidance reminds the community members that people’s past decisions do not define them and that they are capable of change. She said the bookstore creates a welcoming and inclusive environment that encourages everyone to treat one another with utmost respect, despite their past.

Baltutis said the off-site book processing operation is another one of the bookstore’s future initiatives that aims to improve the community by offering books a second home. Baltutis said this location will give the bookstore extra room to identify books that are too obscure or damaged for the shelves. Instead of finding their home at Persnickety Books, they will end up in libraries, barber shop waiting rooms and other local areas so more community members can form connections to the books. 

“It all feeds into wanting to find a second home, a second chance, for every book we touch,” Baltutis said.

Baltutis said the bookstore’s processing site is currently located in Greensboro, but he said he hopes to open a space in Alamance County in the near future. 

As for the current location in Burlington, Baltutis said Persnickety Books will continue to offer visitors 30,000 books of various genres and topics to expand their book collection and to develop their intellects and imaginations. Baltutis said he will add new books, such as foreign language novels, to expand the selection.

Burlington resident Amanda Parker said she visits the bookstore once a month with her daughter because the store offers endless possibilities and multiple opportunities to get lost in the pages. 

“They have everything you could possibly imagine and then stuff you didn’t even know you needed,” Parker said. 

Baltutis said he is also considering extending the bookstore’s hours into the evening to prolong the time that community members join together to read or explore the shelves.

Baltutis said he also wants Persnickety Books to serve as a comfortable and enjoyable place for all ages, so he said he will add a play space for children to occupy themselves while parents shop. Baltutis said he also plans on expanding the bookstore’s lounge space by partnering with local businesses to add a coffee shop or cafe, which he said will enhance the store’s

Though Baltutis is coordinating future plans for the bookstore, he said he will maintain many of the store’s current initiatives. Persnickety Books will continue its trade-in program, which is an opportunity for people to bring in used books for store credit, and its volunteer program.

Zuleta said she is excited about the bookstore’s improvements and its future as a place that further develops the Burlington community. 

“I truly want to see the bookstore continue to thrive,” Zuleta said. “We don’t have a lot of used bookstores in the area that have the type of selection that Persnickety has, and I know a lot of children, teens and young adults who have really enjoyed being able to get new reading material at affordable prices. In an age that is all about technology, nothing beats getting a book in your hands and losing yourself in a different world, page after page.”