Opening Letters

Column: Building a Community Based on Care and Character

how local women, a coupla’ books, and copious coffee can create community

Katy Hackworthy, illustrated by Grace Pedersen |

If you ask any of my pals three phrases they associate with me, I’d bet money nine times out of ten they’d come up with something along the lines of: support local, create community, and read more books.

At the confluence of these three things sits Dotters Books.

Out of all the local spots that have carved a special place in my heart over the years, Dotters undoubtedly occupies the most real estate. From serene Sunday afternoons spent shop-sitting, to my precious Saturdays spent chatting with a good friend and even better business owner, so many simple, yet significant, moments have taken place in the little bookshop at 1602 Hogeboom Ave.

I’ll always remember the first time Dotters Book Club convened almost four years ago: A gaggle of gals – most of them virtual strangers – crammed ourselves into every corner of Red’s Mercantile on a February afternoon, all frosted windows and winter wares. I arrived right on time, solo as I often was in my college years, preferring to spend my time outside of classes and work perusing shops downtown, or wandering aimlessly down the trails, always with a coupla’ books in tow.

Finding a Sense of Community - even in a pandemic - can come in the most unexpected places... supporting local is at the heart of creating community.

The heavy shop door thudded behind me, and – after a few pleasantries – I got to do one of the things I love most: jabber on about books with people who were as invested in endeavoring into new literary worlds as myself. As an English major in my final year of school, lively literary discussion wasn’t especially difficult to come by, but it felt extra special to find community members eager to get down to the dirty business of cultural critique.

In less than an hour, I knew I’d found a group of people who would stretch my mind and heart – not to mention the addition of more books to my ever-expanding “pleasure-reading” pile. That initial brainstorming session birthed many more vibrant discussions (the club is coming up on their 40th meeting in a few weeks) and budding friendships, in addition to the opening of our city’s only independent bookstore. It feels like home – and not just because of the endless coffee, reliably friendly faces, and piles of paperbacks; it feels like a place where you can just be, and that’s more than enough.

As a community member and all-around Dotters devotee, my experiences have always been reflected back to me both in the books I grab from their shelves and the vulnerable discussions we engage in around each month’s pick. In those moments – and many more – I’ve felt seen, and – even more than that – I’ve felt proud to be a tiny part of such a sensational and intentional community space.

While the place I felt most seen was a bookstore, that isn’t the limit. Finding a sense of community – even in a pandemic – can come in the most unexpected places: a smile from the barista who knows your order by heart at a local coffee shop, the refuge found in the shelves of the public library, or the satisfaction after a takeout meal from your favorite restaurant. Supporting local is at the heart of creating community, and these wonderful small businesses are what make Eau Claire so special, so remember that next time you consider ordering out, or when you’re tackling your holiday shopping.

“The generosity of each person in our group manifests itself in a willingness to listen, to learn, to be quiet, and to speak up,” owner Margaret Leonard said to me as she reflected upon how far the club has come in four years.

I couldn’t agree more.

I feel privileged to have shared such meaningful moments with people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. The spirit of shared vulnerability is palpable, and it has everything to do with the powerful, passionate women who have worked so hard to cultivate that spirit.