Sisters Grimm: Bushnell's Bookstore in a Barn

Jessica Rocha

When you enter the village of Bushnell near the edge of Wyoming, many travelers assume this is the end of the line for Nebraska, yet for a pair of sisters it’s where the journey begins.

It almost seems like a fairy tale to hear how the Carpenter gals built The Sisters Grimm, an enchanting and eclectic book store inside a big red barn that decades ago was a rare horse home for Tennessee walkers and Shetland ponies. The charming barn remains, but the muck-caked stalls have been replaced by thousands of unusual used books, along with a little gift shop of Nebraska treasures and offbeat antiques, as well as a cool corner displaying Jessica Carpenter Rocha’s art photography, and a coffee bar where her older sister, Jamie, makes perhaps the tastiest cinnamon latte across the Nebraska Panhandle.

“I’m a bit obsessed with fairy tales,” admits store manager Jamie Carpenter, who did her college thesis on the Brothers Grimm.

That’s how this bookish barn got its name, but the vision quest actually began after the Carpenters’ mom, Deb, and a cowboy poet named Tim Nolting fell in love, and then also fell in love with their new home in Bushnell. After their marriage in 2007, the two writers mind-melded their creativity to promote the Kimball County town with a population of barely 120, down from its 1930 heyday of 341 residents.

They purchased the old horse farm across from their house, which also includes a granary barn and bunkhouse. They dreamed of a village of artists in their village, building a stage in the granary ﷯and starting a folk school for quilting, canning and gardening.

“Our village is like many other small towns,” said Deb Nolting, an educator and singer-songwriter. “It’s full of stories, full of dreams, full of potential.”

The building of Sisters Grimm began in 2010, after Deb managed to hook one of the state’s ultimate book worms: her daughter, Jamie. There are great mystery books on these shelves, but perhaps the store’s most baffling mystery is how many books Jamie has stashed in her private collection.

“I wouldn’t fancy a guess,” Jessica said. Li’l sis still holds a grudge from their childhood in Rushville, when Jamie stalled playing with her outside to finish off yet another chapter.
“Jamie could turn a page before she could walk, and it seemed books were natural extensions of her hands,” Deb said.

Jamie, a former library assistant at Northwestern University’s law school in Chicago, sheepishly owns up to owning several thousand books. She’ll soon display a vast array on staircase shelves leading up to her loft apartment built above the store by her stepdad,Tim, and Jessica’s husband, Juan Rocha.

The grand opening came in July of 2011, just in time for Sisters Grimm to host the traditional Bushnell Day celebrations on the third Saturday in August. They set up an “Old-Timers Roundtable” where longtime residents shared tales from Bushnell’s 146-year history.

Juan and Jessica plan to turn a former bank into a restaurant, where Juan will be the top chef and Jessica will have a photography gallery. For now, hungry customers will have to hope Jamie is in a baking mood and whips up her fabled bread pudding at Sisters Grimm.

The specialty cheese sold is made from milk by the Irish Cream Sheep Dairy in Bushnell, touted as the nation’s largest sheep dairy. There’s also goat’s milk soap from the Double L Country Store in nearby Banner County’s Harrisburg.

Besides the 5,000 books, all sorts of other collectible gems shine out. Vintage shaving kits are atop an antique dresser, and a 19th-century gas stove displays cookbooks. Their mom’s “ancient” Woodstock typewriter and her CD of love songs are also displayed, as well as historic photographs of Bushnell and a signed picture from Nebraska’s astronaut, Clayton Anderson.

While Jessica also lives near the book store, her Kimball jobs take her away from the business, but before her loft was finished, Jamie waded through towering snow drifts from her mom and stepdad’s home to keep the store open. Jamie admits that the none of the 1,000 guest-book signatures were penned on those white-out days, but she had some good books to keep her company. And a few favorite friends.

“You see the stars and hear the coyotes,” Jamie said.

Her stepfather sees the Sisters Grimm story as a symbol of a hopeful future in the entire P﷯anhandle. “For people who still have a spark of that pioneer spirit and for those who can dream,” Tim said.

There are many golden nuggets on the shelves, like an original True Grit book published way before John Wayne put on his eye patch. Perhaps the book that sums up this journey is Jamie’s own copy of Little Orphan Annie handed down by her grandmother. It’s bound backward, so the last page is the first and first page is the last.
It ends with a new beginning. Perhaps just like the story of Bushnell and Sisters Grimm.

The renovated red book barn of Sisters Grimm is at the corner of Maple and D streets on the northwestern edge of Bushnell. 
(308) 230-0683 or 

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