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Books Fill the Aisles at this Supermarket-Turned-Library

Interior of the Merchants' Square Main Library, temporarily housed in an old grocery store

When locals head to the former Merchants’ Square supermarket in Carmel, Indiana, they’re not stocking up on groceries. Instead, they’re there to check out books from the temporarily relocated Carmel Clay Public Library (CCPL), which has ingeniously repurposed the vacant store space to house their collection while their main branch is under renovation.

When they first started planning for their two-year renovation process, library staff struggled to find a temporary location with enough space for both their collection and their operations staff. The empty grocery store turned out to be the ideal solution: its large footprint could accommodate the library’s space needs, plus it boasts a central location in town and plenty of public parking. So after three years of sitting vacant, the underutilized building has become the Merchants’ Square Main Library.

Thanks to the size of the store, CCPL was able to fit all of its children’s and teen materials in the temporary branch, as well as its most of its adult print collection and audiovisual items. The building’s layout doesn’t offer much space for seating or programming, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the library had been focused on grab-and-go service anyway. Their curbside pickup option, which continued seamlessly even during CCPL’s move, has been a popular choice for library users.

grocery store library

Highlights from the Merchants’ Square Main Library, including a freezer section full of books. Photos by Christy Walker.

So far, the new location has been a big hit with local residents. “The community is getting a real kick out of the fact that the place where they used to shop for groceries is now a library,” CCPL communications manager Christy Walker told I Love Libraries.

“In order to maximize the space for our collection, we have repurposed freezers and refrigerated wall units to house materials,” she continued. “Biographies and periodicals are now located in the freezers. Audiobooks now sit where deli meats used to be. Part of our children's department is in what used to be the wine section.”

While a library housed in a former grocery store may seem quirky, this unorthodox set-up has helped CCPL continue serving their community with minimal disruption. “By moving offsite, we are able to reduce the time and cost of construction and allow our community to continue to use the library safely, and by reusing aspects of the existing grocery store, we were able to keep costs down while keeping the collection accessible,” Walker shared. “This project shows how resourceful libraries can be.”

Header photo by Fiona Rademacher.

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