BISBEE — Step into one of Bisbee’s most popular browsing spots, and you may notice two new faces behind the register.
In late November, Ken Mertes and Craig Harzinski took over ownership of Bisbee Books & Music, a shop frequented by locals and tourists alike in search of art and music supplies, vinyls, gifts and a range of used and new books.
Mertes said that he and his husband, Harzinski,“fell in love” with Bisbee after several trips to the historic town, and decided to look for a home and business in the area after retiring from their respective jobs in Chicago.
Both bring varied backgrounds to their new career as small-business owners: Mertes previously worked as a nuclear engineer, professional chef and a Premier Services Ambassador at Wrigley Field, while Harzinski held positions as an IT manager and insurance executive.
Several things drew the couple to Bisbee and southern Arizona, said Mertes.
“Number one, the people,” he said. “Number two, the history and the quaintness of it, a little more so the history. We are awed every day when we drive to work from Sierra Vista up through that beautiful canyon and through the tunnel. (It’s like) going back 100 years.”
After an earlier attempt to purchase a business in town fell through, Harzinski and Mertes noticed that Bisbee Books & Music was up for sale from previous owner Carol Lokey, who had opened it back in November 2014.
Things “fell into place” quickly from there, said Harzinski.
“Carol did such a great job getting this set up,” he said, adding that he and Mertes were in frequent contact with Lokey and her husband, Robert Voss, as they adjusted to running the shop. “She really listened to what people wanted. And we want to continue to serve the local community and be the place they go for their art supplies, for their music, for their books, for their gifts.”
While the new owners plan to continue offering the same product line as well as doing special orders on books, they also look forward to adding their own “spin” on the store as well, said Harzinski.
“I loved science fiction and fantasy books, and I would like to expand that section a little bit. Ken has already got his eye on the cooking section,” he said. “And we also want to become a part of the businesses community here and help support the other businesses.”
The couple also looks forward to engaging with the community and participating in Bisbee’s many festivals and events, and are already working to arrange book signings and displays to help promote the town’s Return of the Turkey Vultures Festival in March and its 10th Copper City Classic Vintage Base Ball Tournament in April, said Mertes.
The new business owners already got taste of one Bisbee event during the town’s Small Town Holiday and window decorating event at the end of the November, for which they built a Christmas tree of books for their holiday display — with one small mistake.
“The guidance was to make sure that only the page side showed, not the spines,” said Mertes. “I get it all done and one book with the spine was showing, and it was a book called ‘Senior Moments’! It was too low to take out, so we put an ‘oops’ sign on it.”
Bisbee’s welcoming and community-oriented spirit is what makes the pair look forward to coming to work every day, said Harzinski.
“We love what we’re doing right now, and the people have been so friendly,” he said. “And they put up with the fact that we recognize their face but don’t remember their names, and that’s OK because they don’t remember ours, either. But I feel like we’re really getting to know a lot of our regulars, and they’re getting to know us.”
Harzinski and Mertes encourage folks to stop in to say hello and “tell us what they need,” said Mertes.
The store is located at 2 Copper Queen Plaza. More information can be found at the Bisbee Books & Music Facebook page.