Austen & Company tries to create welcoming environment with books, tea in Merion Village

Gary Seman Jr.
ThisWeek group
Kay Austen Johnson has founded Austen & Company, a combination bookstore-tea house at 1530 S. High St. in Merion Village. She is pictured with her son, AJ Willey.

Almost everything about Austen & Company is meant to promote a serene environment. 

“I love it when people come in here and say it’s so comfortable,” owner and founder Kay Austen Johnson said. “It makes me feel good. We’re on the right track.” 

Opening in November amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic was a concern but not enough to stop Johnson, according to her husband, Leighton Zimmey.

"There were concerns," he saiSearch Assets d. "Also her entire dreams and savings are on the line in making this successful."

The combination bookstore/tea house at 1530 S. High St. in the Merion Village neighborhood features bookshelves lined with titles hand-picked by Johnson and her daughter, Alicia Zimmey, who also pitches in at the venue. 

The subjects run from history to mystery and almost everything in between, except do-it-yourself books on how to fix a car, Johnson said. 

She’s even created a “blind-date” category, where books are wrapped in brown paper; potential readers are given hints on the content and who wrote the books but no opportunities for browsing, she said. 

People can read or converse while seated on one of the many sofas or at tables. 

The tea house part of the equation offers loose-leaf teas, available by the ounce or brewed by the glass ($1.50) during “hot tea” month. There are 28 options procured from Churchill’s Fine Teas of Cincinnati. 

Coffee drinks are also part of the beverage lineup. The store gets its beans from the Roaming Goat Coffee Company in the Short North. 

Johnson said she has applied for a liquor license and hopes to offer beer and cocktails in the near future. 

Assorted pastries and snacks also are available.

A retired office manager, Johnson said she was looking for something to keep busy. She concluded that independent-bookstore sales were on the rise, according to the American Booksellers Association, and the addition of quality teas added to the customer experience. 

Her son, AJ Willey, has joined her full time, and son-in-law, Leighton Zimmey, also helps out. 

Johnson said she didn’t do much to the interior of her establishment except refinished the walls and the wooden floors. 

Willey said he enjoys the welcoming atmosphere of Austen & Company. 

“I’d like to think this is a safe space for everyone,” he said.   

Hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

gseman@thisweeeknews.com 

@ThisWeekGary