Indie bookstore a hidden gem in the Cotton District

Owner of SAGE Coffee & Books Lara Hammond has been located on Page Avenue for one year. (Photo by Sarah Raines, SDN)
Staff Writer

Nestled between two crepe myrtles on Page Avenue in Starkville's Cotton District is an eclectic independent bookstore, SAGE Coffee & Books, and owner Lara Hammond opened her shop to promote literacy in Mississippi as well as to provide a venue for people to share their ideas.

Hammond - Meridian native -  worked in California publishing a magazine and then helping to produce shows and films for Warner Bothers and Dick Clark. When Hurricane Katrina went through Mississippi, Hammond returned to Meridian to take care of her mother.

"My mom had Alzheimer's, so we started the store together," Hammond said. "The game plan was to have something for her to do throughout her elder years that we could do together. She could come to the store with me every day."

SAGE Coffee & Books began in Meridian as a dog-friendly cafe people could visit and find books to read. Hammond grew up going to independent bookstores that were scattered through Meridian, but said when she returned home from California, there were few left.

"I opened in September 10 years ago," Hammond said. "I have moved to several different locations since then … I've been in Starkville for two years and in this location at 19 Page for a year."

SAGE Coffee & Books is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and sells a variety of literature, from books written in foreign languages to educational books to different types of fiction.

Hammond noticed the lack of independent bookstores when she returned to Mississippi, which is another reason she opened SAGE. Hammond's bookstore is meant to be a resource for anyone in the community, from home-schooled children to adults who are looking for something to read.

"The idea is to make reading accessible and easy, just like playing a game on a phone," Hammond said. "Reading should be inexpensive. It should be something that you can come here and spend a dollar and have something to do for a week."

The name of SAGE Coffee & Books is rooted in symbolism of different ceremonies and cultures. Hammond said she attended Native American ceremonies when she lived in California, where sage was used for purification. She also referenced a 5,000-year-old oracle named "I Ching" where "Sage" was the wise man. It is also a plant that can be used in cooking.

"It is so versatile of a name," Hammond said. "It's only four letters and it's simple. And I didn't know of any other place that was utilizing the name."

Colorful art lines the walls of the bookstore, both salvaged pieces there for decoration and pieces for sale.

Local artists like Paul Buckley and Jeanette Jarmon have pieces on display and for sale at SAGE Coffee & Books.

The store also hosts events, allowing local musicians to play on the patio and poets to share their work.

Hammond said the store does not endorse any particular candidates, but it believes in the political process, so candidates are welcome to ask permission to place signs in front of the store and it has hosted voter registration events before.

"This is for the community," Hammond said. "If I can sell 100 books a day for one dollar, then 100 people would have something to read."

Hammond said she hopes SAGE gives visitors the opportunity to have "a fuller conversation for all avenues of life."