Coastal Independent Bookstores and the “Gods and Goddesses” Who Own and Run these Gems of Coastal Community Culture
Our local north coast booksellers are a little naïve; at least that’s what most of them told me when interviewing for this story. These bookstore owners all believe independent bookstores are a necessary aspect of any livable community. They believe inviting, local bookstores furnished with comfy chairs, a cat, and stacks of good books sustain a community. They have the notion if they host book events and author visits and customer conversations their store can both indicate and incite a community’s health and cohesion. They hope ereading devices, and big boxstores with their sterile book sections filled with the same twenty not-very-well-written books, and online booksellers won’t impact the book market too much. A little naïve indeed.
But, as the roots of the word mean “native” and its etymological origins link to words like nation, kind, and gentle, the fact that these bookstore owners are a little naïve may be their – and our coastal community’s – saving grace.
All our local booksellers also love books. And reading. And words. Karen Spicer, the beret-wearing, coffee-drinking owner of Rainy Day Books in Tillamook, sits in her comfy worn chair and sweeps her arm along the length of her main room where stacks of books rise inside shelves, on tables, and even in piles on the floor. “Think about it,” she says with a wistful voice, “Twenty-six letters in the English alphabet, and look what’s here. If you can read, you can access every thought ever thought.”
Franz Hasslacher, co-owner of Ekahni Books in Manzanita agrees. He and his wife, Sherry, bought the store in December of 2009 because they “believe in books and information,” particularly the kind of books not noted on the homogenized bestseller lists. However, the Hasslachers came into owning a bookstore right when the state of the publishing industry, with the advent of e-readers and tablets, registered its greatest shifts in how people get that information. In the second quarter of 2010, just after the launch of Apple’s first iPad, the online mogul Amazon.com hit the dubious milestone of selling more ebooks than print books. While Hasslacher acknowledges the advent of ereading devices has taken its toll, he still has hope. “Young people and old people come into the store and say they’ll never buy an ereader because they like the tactile feel of a book. Whether there’s enough of them, who knows?”
All our local independent booksellers have that question “who knows” hanging over their heads. They know the book world has changed. They know the economy has tanked. They know the future of the publishing and distribution industries is murky. Some of them, like Karen Emmerling of Beach Books in Seaside who recently implemented Google ebooks on her website and will be a first timer at the book expo in New York this year, are trying to keep up. Other sellers may give up, though not without a fight.
Spicer has been in the business for twenty-five and a half years. She knew what she wanted when she bought the bookstore and claims she “pretty much achieved that,” which was to make her livelihood by being a proprietor whose store has idyllic days where a dad is reading to his kid in the children’s room, and another person is reading on the couch, and a mom is nursing her baby in the comfy chair, and there’s cool music playing over the speakers. In other words, a place where community happens. But those kind of days at Rainy Day are getting fewer and farther between. “What I’m experiencing [now] is that books aren’t revered like they used to be,” Spicer says. “They’re a penny on Amazon, a dime a dozen. So if people can’t get them for cheap, they don’t want them.”
Jody Swanson of Cloud & Leaf Books in Manzanita can relate to Spicer’s experience. “Occasionally I have people come in here, take a picture with their phone of a book they want, and then go download it.” Swanson has been impacted by the changes in the economy and the book market, and she worries, too. But, she says she still sees a lot of people who have “awareness about supporting indie bookstores.” She also repeats a few times during our interview how thankful she feels to have a good location in Manzanita with a lot of foot and vacation home traffic where people arrive with leisure time to read.
All our local booksellers know the most important aspect of an independent bookstore is the human interaction and quality service they offer. It’s one asset all the technology or money in the world can’t beat or buy. These local sellers get to know their customers and help recommend books off the beaten path to satisfy their unique readers’ tastes. All of them will make special orders for their customers.
“More than ever, customer service is important,” says Emmerling. “Personal connection is what keeps people coming back.”
Patti Breidenbach, the new owner of Lucy’s Books in Astoria, argues customers “want that personal touch you just can’t get at the ‘A’ place, the online store that shall not be mentioned,”she says with a giggle. She also notes how someone once told her a bookstore in a town reflects the education of the people. “A town without a bookstore is a sad town,” she says.
If you’re reading this article and nodding your head in agreement, do more than peruse in the nice chairs these sellers have set out for you. Buy a book. Or two. Or tons. If you’re too financially strapped to buy a book, then ask if the seller might like a donation of your cool used books, so they could turn around and sell them, hopefully at a profit. One smart customer, when hearing how our local libraries are struggling to survive and fighting to pass levies to keep their doors open, walked into Rainy Day Books, bought a $500 gift certificate, and then gave it to the library to use for new purchases – that way, his purchase was doubly philanthropic.
On the side of their sales counter, Cloud & Leaf Book has a poster from IndieBound, a program launched in 2008 to help bring together independent businesses. The poster is the IndieBound Declaration, which reads in part: “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for individuals to denounce the corporate bands which threaten to homogenize our cities and our souls, we must celebrate the powers that make us unique and declare the causes which compel us to remain independent. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all stores are not created equal, that some are endowed by their owners, their staff, and their communities with certain incomparable heights, that among these are Personality, Purpose and Passion.” If you truly believe bookstores are a sign of a thriving community, resist the soul-sucking ease of online shopping or buying a book while you’re also buying groceries. Save your soul – and your community – by supporting your local independent bookstore.
Karen Emmerling, owner
3700 N. Edgewood
Seaside, OR 97138
In 2005, Karen Emmerling, a former advertising executive and t.v. manager, had been working with her husband in Gearhart when she “decided it was time to do something for me.” She took a trip to Wordstock, the bookseller and author extravaganza held every year at the convention center in Portland, and “knew I should have always been in the bookworld.” So, she Googled “how to open a bookstore,” and launched Beach Books in November of that year. Noting the risky move opening a new business in November on the Oregon coast, Emmerling laughs and says, “my timing has never been good.” Despite the riskiness of the endeavor, Emmerling has not only survived but thrived; last year was her best yet and this year is off to a good start.
Her vision for her store was a “warm, inviting place where people feel comfortable talking about books. I wanted to share my love of books.” Beach Books sells primarily new books, but has some used, and a lot of regional and local author books as well. Beyond the comfortable chairs and welcoming cat, named Oz, Emmerling is serious about the quality of her customer service. She and her staff of four, offer monthly author luncheons, have ties to Pacific University’s Seaside winter residency program, provide a detailed website, create recommendation cards, send out a monthly email newsletter, update their Facebook page, offer discounts to book groups, and even make deliveries to locals during the summer months. Beach Books is an organizer of the first annual Seaside author event, “Written in the Sand,” to be held on June 23rd when more than 20 authors will gather at Downing Park to sign copies and read from their books.
Cloud & Leaf Bookstore
Jody Swanson, owner
148 Laneda Ave.
P.O. Box 866
Manzanita, OR 97130
Eight years ago when Jody Swanson moved to Manzanita, she noticed there wasn’t a bookstore in town and she wanted to run a bookstore because she loves books. Her location and reputation as the local bookstore on Manzanita’s main Laneda Avenue has been a key component of her ability to expand her store after only two years and maintain one part-time and a few “on-call” employees. She specializes in new books, both fiction and non-fiction, and “more obscure things, whatever I find that I like,” she says. She’s also proud of her poetry selection. She’s an avid researcher, referencing several book guides before she orders, and she’s selective about what she chooses. Cloud & Leaf also sells cards, writing related gifts, small journals and magazines, and a few used books from Swanson’s own storage unit.
While Swanson acknowledges whatever she thinks is “good is subjective,” locals, tourists, and second home owners seem to trust her tastes and have come to rely on them. “I have a lot of people,” she says, “who are kind and complimentary about the store, and who appreciate our customer service, like the little recommended signs and reviews.”
Cloud & Leaf is a bookseller for the Manzanita Writers’ Series and offers periodic book events; she even once packed a rock band into her small store to help support a local writer.
Valerie Ryan, Owner
130 North Hemlock, Suite 2
Cannon Beach, Oregon 97110
Cannon Beach Book Company owner, Valerie Ryan, bought the store in 1980 with a partner (John Buckley). They owned it together until late in 1983, when Ryan sold her half, and returned to Seattle. Twelve years later, she came back to the area, and bought the store, running it as the sole owner for the last 17 years. With the help of four employees year around and five in the summer, CBBC hosts frequent book signings,and co-sponsors off-site events with Cannon Beach Public Library, at Coaster Theatre, or “wherever we are asked to participate”. A recent event, “Get Lit at the Beach,” brought four bestselling authors to town for three days. This successful event will continue, to be held again on April 12, 13, and 14, 2013.
Valerie majored in English in college. “When it became apparent that I was going to have to earn a living I realized that I could do what I loved best: surround myself with books; read them; write about them; talk about them; sell them.” She finds owning a bookstore to be “interesting, challenging, and always fun, a pleasure every day. “ Her daily interaction with colleagues, readers, and boxes of new books makes it “Christmas all the time.” She enjoys reading advance copies of what is coming up, as well as, the camaraderie with other booksellers in the Northwest and throughout the country. “I have learned a great deal about how people’s tastes change and evolve , but one thing is constant: a well-written book is easy to talk about and hand-sell. “ Selling hard-bound books is the obvious “backbone of the business”, but the advent of e-book formats poses an enormous challenge to retail booksellers. Valerie reflects, “It remains to be seen how that will play out. People tell us all the time that they love the feel, and look of a real book, but sometimes have succumbed to the electronic alternative for travel.”
As a small independent bookstore, Cannon Beach Book Company offers new and repeat customers an eclectic inventory from its extensive collection of literary fiction, to its carefully curated collection of sidelines. Customers frequently comment that in the CBBC library of fiction, children’s books, mysteries, and top regional and non-fiction titles, they find things they have never see anywhere else. Valerie and her employees are happy to fill special orders quickly and ship them anywhere. The inventory has recently expanded to include art supplies, along with their unique cards, Bookseats, Tokoloshe candles, lighted readers, book lights, and even a bumper sticker that says “Reading is Sexy.” “It is small and very discreet. We sell a lot of them to grandmothers…,” Ryan jokes, who, as is apparent, thrives to share the joy of reading with all coastal visitors and residents, young and old. -Edited by Lynn Hadley
Charlie Holboke has been in the book business since 1978. He started with Turnaround Books in Seaside, which he ran from 1978-1999. Godfather’s Books in Astoria opened its doors in 1993, and is still serving customers from 9-8, Monday-Saturday (Most of the year), and on Sunday, 9-6.
Currently, with four part-time employees, including Michael McCusker, editor and publisher of the paper, Times Eagle, and host of KMUN’s “A Story Told”, Thursdays from 9:30-10:00am, this book store vibrates with life. Godfather’s Books offers up a great metaphysical book selection, incense, beverages, and a comfortable space for getting to know locals, as well as local and worldly books and art. Holboke is inspired by the love of books: the smell; the feel; the contents. “I love to have a book in my hands, and thought it would be a pretty good profession to put books into other people’s hands, and, so far, that has been a pretty good thing.” In the last ten years, internet sellers, e-reading formats, and bigbox discount stores have made it challenging for the small, independent bookseller to stay alive and well. Charlie has addressed this challenge with caffeine! He was the first purveyor of coffee and espresso in Seaside in 1986, and has clung to his mug ever since, serving up espresso and gourmet coffee beans.
Godfather’s Books is not just a bookstore with coffee, it is an Astoria Institution: a social hub; a place for one-of-a-kind gifts; an outstanding used book collection; a spot to listen to the employees play music; a special refuge sheltering real, hands-on books and magic, where Charlie is as excited about bringing his customers new and used books as he was initially in the late seventies. Godfather’s hosts book events. The most recent was with Ken Babbs (One of Ken Kesey’s “Merry Pranksters”), who wrote Who Shot the Water Buffalo. On the schedule for Sunday, June 24th at 2pm, is Kurt Nelson, who has recently published two Pacific Northwest historical books, Fighting for Paradise and Treaties and Treachery. – Lynn Hadley
Franz and Sherry purchased the store from the original owners in 2009 (the store was relocated from Wheeler to Manzanita only a few years prior), and run the store themselves. They bought a bookstore because they “believe in books and information and always wanted to live at the coast.” Franz says owning the store is “about supporting local authors and local businesses and keeping our money in our community, or at least in the state.” Coast Community Radio, KMUN, recently named Sherry Hasslacher their business member of the quarter.
Ekahni Books specializes in local authors and local history, including self-published and print on demand books, and they have a new expanded used-book section. Franz and Sherry particularly liked the used book idea, because “there are no batteries, no clogging up landfills.” Franz notes that personal service in a bookstore is what’s invaluable. “We can figure out what the customers’ reading appetites are and suggest books when they come into the store. They want to read something other than the twenty books on Amazon or what’s on Oprah or the New York Times bestseller lists. Our store is more about finding that hidden treasure.” Ekhani is in partnership with the Manzanita Writer’s Series and is a bookseller for their author events every other month. The Hasslachers bought the store with the belief they’d be able to support themselves, but Sherry has taken another job to aid their income and the store is currently for sale.
Twenty-four years ago, Mary Lou McAuley was living in Washington State when she received a “sudden tip from the cosmos” that she should move to Cannon Beach, and open a bookshop. Since then, Jupiter’s Books has showcased secondhand books and other wares in a recycled garage across from the park in downtown Cannon Beach.
The name “Jupiter’s Rare & Used Books” was adopted in 1990 by John Taylor, a local house painter, who suddenly knew, like a bolt from the blue, he was going to be the next owner. As a boy, John’s mom gave him the nickname “Jupiter” for some unknown reason. Taylor installed the wooden shelving that enables, current owner,Watt Childress, to fit some 15,000 titles in the space of about 500 square feet. While John was still the shop owner, he hired a washboard-playing hippie named Billy Hults. Hults had just moved to the coast from Portland, where he had been working at the Goose Hollow Inn to promote live music, and to help elect Goose Hollow’s owner, Bud Clark, as Portland’s mayor.
In 1992, Billy began publishing “The Upper Left Edge” while working at the book shop. “Our beloved Reverend Billy Lloyd Hults”, as he became known to his readers, enticed his bosom buddy and fellow writer, Michael Burgess, to join him at the coast. Burgess came to Cannon Beach, and served as anchor columnist for the publication. After work on most evenings, the duo would join other local literati at Bill’s Tavern for “vespers.”
In the late 90s, Billy sold “Jupiter’s” to two of his “vesper” brethren, Bob and Suzanne Ragsdale. This couple had made enough dough, after retiring from Microsoft, to keep Billy on to work in the shop, along with several other characters. Watt began visiting the shop circa 1989, and soon fell in love with a Clatsop County girl. He and Jennifer moved to the coast to live full-time in 2001. Childress started working at the bookshop, then, and would scout for additional inventory, on the side. Together, Watt and Jennifer purchased Jupiter’s Books in 2004; recently, reviving “The Upper Left Edge”, as an online journal. Musician, Wes Wahrmund works in the shop at least one day a week, and is known to bring his guitar to play, but you can always catch him Friday and Saturday nights at The Bistro in Cannon Beach.
“When I travel I see fewer shops like Jupiter’s, fewer places to peruse the shelves, and explore a selection of out-of-print stories and offbeat ideas,” Watt comments. “Many secondhand booksellers have shut their doors during the past decade — cutting brick-and-mortar costs, and shifting solely to online marketing. That’s too bad, because you can’t get the same experience at a website. Secondhand bookshops can be seedbeds for enlightenment, in my humble experience. Time and again, I’ve watched how seemingly random bits of information converge in ways we don’t expect. Suddenly, we’re holding a book we’ve never seen before, on a topic we hadn’t considered. Then real magic is unleashed, when some word opens up a conversation.” His aim is to provide the fertile ground for that process to continue. “People call it ‘browsing’, which makes it sound like a safe, sane dalliance, but on good days it feels more like getting struck by lightning.”
Childress finds, “The most challenging thing about owning a bookstore now is competing with large online marketers, and e-book promoters in a ravaged economy. Some folks will come here to browse, find something they like, then leave figuring they can get it cheaper, elsewhere. Often, they’re wrong. I confess that I get a little high when they come back, and I’ve already sold it to someone else.” What does the future hold for Jupiter’s Books/Jupiter’s Rare & Used Books? Mythic fiction has captured Childress’ attention, of late, who recommends “Someplace to be Flying” by Charles de Lint; look for a review online in “The Upper Left Edge”. Where there is mythic fiction, mythic non-fiction is soon to follow, along with more cosmic connections between customers and the interplanetary exploration launched at Jupiter’s Books in Cannon Beach. Edited by Lynn Hadley
Patti Breidenbach, a career high school art teacher in Idaho, had visited Astoria and Lucy’s Books several times on while on vacation over the years, and she’d always enjoyed the look and feel of the town and store. Last year, when her “age of retirement” coincided with longtime owner Laura Snyder’s decision to sell, Breidenbach made the leap into owning a bookstore, something “she thought she’d like to do.” Breidenbach and many locals already liked what Lucy’s Books had in stock – a quality collection of new and used fiction, non-fiction, and regional books, so she didn’t make many changes to the inventory because she wanted to treat the local customers right. She did add a few chairs upstairs to encourage more perusing, and is expanding the children’s book section.
Breidenbach is still organizing book events for Lucy’s Books at least every other month, if not every month once she really gets “into the swing of the dynamics of them.” Most of the book events are or NW and local authors. She runs the website and has one part-time employee.
Karen Spicer, owner
2015 Second Street
Tillamook, OR 97141
As one of the oldest bookstores on the Oregon Coast, Rainy Day Books is a downtown Tillamook icon. In 1987, Karen Spicer starting working at the store as “a friend who followed a friend to help a friend,” when the original owner, the late local poet and social worker, Jean Wollenweber, decided to sell her store (originally named “Cat’s Paws”).
Spicer, who “loves books and reading,” bought her share of the store after a few years, and has been the sole proprietor ever since, employing only periodic part-time staff to help clean, organize, inventory, price, and move several rooms and stacks full of new and used books. Rainy Day specializes in rare editions, and whatever Spicer, a rigorous bargain hunter, “could find at garage sales.” Her store is one of the larger ones on the coast and is often the place where a reader can find a book hidden on her shelves he couldn’t find anywhere else. She also has a selection of greeting cards, often by local artists.
Spicer says her bookstore is a “transformative place” and that she found herself there. “Books get in your blood and you won’t love anything more,” she says. Her cat, Webster, is seventeen years old and gets depressed when there’s no customers in the store.
Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula Book Stores
Time Enough Books
157 Howerton Avenue
Harbour Village, Port of Ilwaco, WA
Overlooking the Ilwaco marina, Time Enough Books sits among the harbor shops offering up both new and used books. Of the many shops and restaurants along the harbor walk, Time Enough Books, which opened its doors in May 2000, has 80/20% new and used books, respectively, and, now, operates seven days a week, year-round. What started as the personal collection of Karla and Peter Nelson, Time Enough Books grew to become a comfortable little book shop with a strong maritime book selection, a regular book group meeting place, and the home of Harper Lee, a golden lab who greets all patrons at the store. With the Ilwaco Saturday market on-going from May through September, this shop is a fun destination spot for all literary shoppers.
114 3rd Street SW
Long Beach, WA
Located in the old town part of the Long Beach community, Banana Books features used titles. Banana Books’ owner Ed Gray, along with his American Staffordshire, Sobe, serves up a diverse book selection, an espresso bar, and handmade jewelry, fashioned by his wife, Mary Johnson. For over 20 years, he worked as a book scout and wholesaler of rare books, opening the book shop nine years ago. The book store, which provides many an entertaining read to the May through September Long Beach visitors, operates year-round. Ed enjoys winter reading on the peninsula, and finds it very relaxing, though his book selling schedule makes it hard for him to find time to read. Open Friday and Monday 12pm-5pm, and Saturdays and Sundays 11am-6pm.
Catherine O’Toole Bookseller
1310 Bay Avenue
Ocean Park, WA
Catherine O’Toole Bookseller, located in an historic 1880s Ocean Park building that was the former Methodist Church and Moose Lodge, houses an extensive book collection. She specializes in antiquarian, rare, and out-of-print books of over 68,000 titles. New local history and guidebooks are also available at her shop. Originally from Ireland, she has lived in the United States for over forty-five years. Catherine keeps her local book business viable by selling and shipping her wares all over the world. “I can’t resist books,” she says. “It’s very gratifying to be able to say to a customer, ‘Oh yes, I’ve got that.’”
1401 Bay Avenue
Ocean Park, WA
Cyndy Hayward opened Adelaide’s Books bookstore and coffeehouse in 2008. Cyndy, a Seattle attorney, moved to Oysterville, and bought the historic building across from Catherine O’Toole’s shop in Ocean Park. She named her shop after the former business owner and operator, Adelaide Taylor, who ran Taylor Hotel on this site from 1887 to the mid 1930s. She offers a variety of approximately 3,000 titles, ranging from children’s literature to poetry. Helping Hayward, her friendly, full-sized poodle, Miles, greets guests on game nights and for author’s reading events. Open Thursdays through Mondays, 8am-4pm.
(Thanks to Southwest Washington Zest, a wonderful blog site, for the resource of info on Peninsula bookstores. See www.southwestwashingtonzest.com)