16 September 2010

Taking a Bookseller's Temperature, Part One

It’s time to get out the old thermometer – the oral thermometer, please – and take the temperature of at least one local bookstore. This week I talked with my friend Christie Olson Day, who became the owner of Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino when she bought it from me, four years ago.

Gallery Bookshop has a long and proud history. From about 1962 and for many years after it was run by Betty Goodman, a former children’s librarian with a love of literature. She named the store “Gallery” Bookshop because it was half a gallery, half an art supplies store, and half a high quality bookstore with emphasis on art books of interest to students and teachers at the Mendocino Art Center.

When I came along in 1980 Betty was ill and ready to sell the store to someone interested in preserving it. I managed not to fail in the first few years as I learned the business. Later, we grew and prospered. We opened Bookwinkle’s, a children’s bookstore, later expanding to the corner of Main and Kasten streets and incorporating everything into one big bookstore.

By 2006 I had enjoyed my own long run – after 26 years the store was doing fine, but I needed time to do new things for the rest of my life. Almost magically, Christie Olson Day, who had worked in the store for nine years, through the birth of two children, sent me an uncannily  perceptive email.

“Tony, if you ever think of selling the bookstore, can we talk?”

That was in March, 2006. By September that year we had signed papers and Christie was the new owner. She’s doing great things with Gallery Bookshop. It’s full of energy and great books.

I thought it might be time we talked together for publication. The rest of this Words on Books is Christie’s responses to my questions. It continues next week..

First question for Christie: “How are you doing as the owner? How's your work, all aspects. Joy? Sorrow? Boredom? Challenge? Intensity? Learning things?”

And she answered: “Boredom?  Boredom?  Hahahahhahahhahah. Never. I always said that going to work in the bookstore was one of those rare dreams that actually lived up to -- exceeded, in fact -- all my expectations. As in: ‘Working in a bookstore seems like it would be great.’  And then ... IT WAS. The work was so compelling that I wanted to buy the store. And lo! Just as interesting. Much, much more difficult, of course, and it's just getting

I asked, “How's your level of confidence, and what are your expectations, generally speaking, going forward, for the independent bookselling industry?”

Christie said, “It's getting harder for just about every local business, and particularly retail, and particularly retail bookselling. Where to start?  The recession has been incredibly challenging for Mendocino businesses. We just have to keep doing more, and doing it better, to keep our customers.

“I mean, Shakespeare on the Mac(Callum) House lawn? I love it, it's fabulous, but inns don't have to do these things in boom years. For us and other bookstores, it means more & better events, more outreach, new public relations projects, building a more extensive online business, and anything else we can think of to keep our communities engaged. Customer service has also become a high-wire act.

“For bookstores (and other businesses with intense big-business competition like pharmacies, florists, hardware stores) there's an awareness that one tiny mistake is all it takes to lose a customer to that big box store or giant online operation.

We’ll stop here for lack of time. Next week Christie talks about the future of independent bookselling, family life, e-books, readers’ expectations, and a lot more.


Visit the bookstore...

They have written a short history of the store.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please let me hear from you. It is easy to post your thoughts here. Due to spammers, I now am moderating the comments. If you are a human, you are in, but you may have to wait a few hours until I OK your pending comment. Thank you!