It’s no surprise that the people who own and operate Poppy Books & Gifts in Spanish Fork share a deep love for books.
For Karin Smith and her daughter, Whitney Gallegos, the bond with books formed when they read together when Whitney was a child — going through such volumes as Kevin Henkes’ picture books. In their more current reading, Gallegos called Kristin Hannah’s World War II novel “The Nightingale” a favorite, while Smith cited a classic of American literature: Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Their shop — just around the corner from Spanish Fork’s eclectic Main Street — is inside a house built in 1930, and which was previously a salon, Smith said.
“We redid all the flooring,” Smith said as she and Gallegos sat on a plushy bench in the shop’s thriller and mystery room. “We added this arch,” she gestures, “and that arch. We took out a wall and added a wall, lots of things to make it more functional.”
Functional it is, with its teal painted walls, open windows, wooden floors and towering shelves that create a space that gives off a welcoming feel. There are, naturally, books everywhere: Two floors are dedicated to their robust inventory.
“It’s a very warm space and I don’t feel like you get that in most regular stores,” Smith said.
The store also features a merchandise area, filled with book lover memorabilia: Pins, bookmarks, stickers, tote bags and more. There’s also a wall of hand-drawn “book boyfriend” bookmarks, from popular romance titles like “The Hating Game,” “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” and “The Spanish Love Deception.”
There are even two hidden “nook” areas: Small, creative art displays handcrafted by one of Smith’s friends. The closer you look, the more details pop out.
The duo hope to open a cafe area, and use the backyard space for pop-up markets and author signings when the weather warms up.
Smith and Gallegos got the idea to open Poppy Books & Gifts when they were on a weekend away together. They visited a cute bookstore, and decided they wanted to start their own.
The store opened on Dec. 1, and after two months, they said it’s going well.
What makes the store different, they said, is that they have new and popular books in stock, ranging across many genres — because they want something for everyone.
“There aren’t very many independent bookstores that just have new books,” Smith said. There are many used bookstores in the vicinity, but the closest place selling new books, Gallegos said, is the Barnes & Noble store in Orem, 15 miles away.
The diversity isn’t limited to genres. Across the shelves on both floors, there are books, prominently displayed, that feature diverse stories, characters and topics.
In the children’s section, one display shelf holds stories on women in sports, Indigenous people and Black women. In the far back corner, above a sitting area, there is a paper doll chain hanging from the window — and each of the dolls is uniquely decorated, with the saying “we’re different, we’re the same.”
The doll chain started during a recent event in the store, Smith said. “We had done a reading time with the ‘Sesame Street’ book ‘We’re Different, We’re the Same,’” Smith said. “It [talked] about how we all have eyes, we all see. … Our skin may be different, but it’s here for the same purpose.”
So the kids colored versions of themselves for the chain, Smith said. The plan is, Smith said, is to keep adding to it, as parents bring their children into the store.
It’s important, Smith said, to diversify reading for these little kids, to make sure to teach them to love everybody.
“That’s the fun thing about bookstores and the vibe that they give off is that everybody’s different and everybody can have an opinion and feel the way they want to feel and that’s OK,” Smith said.
That attitude might find detractors in Utah County, where books have been a topic of controversy in recent months. Last summer, the Alpine School District pulled 52 books from library shelves — many of them dealing with LGBTQ+ characters and topics. Some of those books are now on the shelves at Poppy Books & Gifts.
The reaction has been positive, Smith and Gallegos said, and the store has attracted customers from all over Utah. Gallegos said that, to their knowledge, they have received only one piece of “hate mail”: A single negative Google review last weekend that complained of the store’s “woke propaganda” selection.
“We’re in Utah, it’s very conservative, and book bans are happening all over the place,” Gallegos said. “It’s really important for people to have access to those kinds of books and see why they’re being banned.”
Poppy Books & Gifts is located at 56 W. 200 North, Spanish Fork. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For information on special events, go to the store’s Instagram account, @poppybookssf.