Imagine a life without books. For many folks this may be easy, while for others, it’s unthinkable.
For centuries, books have provided education, entertainment, distraction, religious instruction, and fantasy. They’ve even been used as paperweights, booster seats, or home décor.
But is their time coming to an end?
Libraries are suffering budget cuts, while teachers bemoan the fact that their students don’t read.
The bookstore chain Borders has gone bankrupt, and the sight of people staring at a smartphone is more common than people with their nose in a book.
In Montezuma County, where do you even go to buy a book? Do you cruise the scanty shelves at Walmart, search boxes at yard sales, peek at the racks provided in a few local markets and coffee houses? Do you order online? Or do you search out regional bookstores such as Maria’s in Durango, Between the Covers in Telluride and Back of Beyond in Moab?
More importantly, did you know that Cortez has perhaps the best (besides being the only) bookstore in our region, simply and aptly named “Books”?
Located on the west side of Cortez on Piñon – the spur linking Broadway (Highway 491) with Cortez’s Main Street – the store is painted bright yellow. It provides ample parking in back, as well as comfortable chairs, plants, and a welcoming atmosphere.
While many people are buying (and reading) their reading materials online (think Kindle, Nook, iPads and e-books) others remain dedicated to words printed on paper. Some say a town isn’t really a town unless it has a bookstore. Alexander Wooley, a writer for the Huffington Post, notes that used-book stores are indicators of a city’s health and touts the fact that secondhand shops in New York City quadrupled under Mayor Bloomberg.
Yet many predict that the bookstore experience will become obsolete in the near future, primarily because of the growing popularity of electronic readers, but also because reading is not as popular a leisure activity as it used to be.
Yale Fyler, the owner of Books for the past 15 years, has noted the change. “What I saw when I first bought the store was that the elderly and retired folks came in regularly and bought 10 or 20 books a week.” Their purchases, mostly consisting of what Fyler calls “leisure reading,” kept the store afloat.
But as the older generation passes on, there are fewer readers to take their place.
Still, Fyler, who sees value in being able to browse, is not ready to give up.
In 1999, he bought the bookstore as a retirement option, planning for the day when he wouldn’t be able to work in a physically demanding job. He moved the store to its current location on Piñon, increased the inventory, built all the shelves himself, and brought in new books in 2001.
With more than 100,000 books (“Nobody really knows how many volumes we have,” says Fyler), the store has an amazing variety. Over time Fyler customized his inventory to his clientele, and the new-book room features a diverse and intelligent selection of regional material, natural and cultural histories, field guides and an excellent “how to” section.
But it’s the used-book inventory that is truly remarkable. The bookstore is “bigger inside than it is outside,” laughs Megan Coxwell, who does marketing for the shop. Walking through that half-mile of shelves, one can find books about art, woodworking, geology, science fiction, cooking, astrology, gardening, fitness, babies, animal husbandry, auras, general fiction, biography, history, selfhelp, adventure, sports, medicine, alternative healing, herbs, hunting, folk music, and automotive repair. There are Time-Life sets, collectible books, reference books, and sheet music. There are two rooms full of paperback mysteries, and one room dedicated entirely to romance novels.
Not a big Internet user himself, Fyler hired Coxwell in May to help with the social marketing aspect of the business. “When I came on, I wanted us to join IndieBound and the American Booksellers Association,” explains Coxwell. ABA is a not-for-profit trade organization dedicated to the support of independent booksellers nationwide, providing education, advocacy and marketing information for independent bookstore owners. IndieBound has the same kind of support for its members, with a bit more focus on activism. Books has now joined both of these organizations, and Coxwell is on a mission to inform the community of the value of buying from a locally owned and operated store.
She says people may not think about the option of looking at a local store first.
“They think Amazon is cheaper or faster,” she notes, “but we can usually get a book in the same amount of time, and our customers won’t have to pay shipping.” Indeed, many Books customers call to see if the store has a particular volume they’re interested in.
“We will go and look on the shelves for the book for you, if you don’t have the time,” says Fyler.
Coxwell plans to promote the bookstore through new and varied channels. Fyler, who advertises in tourism brochure racks and the phone book, already gets lots of business from tourists, who see his store as a “gem.”
Coxwell acknowledges the benefits of tourism, noting, “We want our town to be a destination.” But in addition, she wants local residents to take advantage of what the store provides. “I want to hear from people,” she says. “What do you want to read?”
To this end she started a Books Facebook page, which you are invited to join. It’s at https://www.facebook.com/pages/ BOOKS-in-Cortez/1424769444455053.
Coxwell sees what she calls “a new wave of localism.” Having been involved in the local-food movement, she thinks area residents just need a bit of education about how buying from a locally owned, independent bookstore supports the entire community.
“Why buy local? You are supporting the local economy. You support free speech. A lot of people understand local when it comes to food, but the same principles apply when it comes to books.”
Coxwell is animated, her eyes lighting up. “When you buy a used book, and return it for credit, and buy another, you are recycling, besides supporting a local business.”
Customers can return the books they’ve read, and receive a store credit for one-half the purchase price. “We do ask that people bring us books in good condition,” Fyler says. Most books are eligible for the store credit, but many people are just happy to have a place to take the books where they may be useful.
Instead of throwing money to yet another giant corporate entity such as Amazon or Walmart, buying from Books keeps the money in your own town. “It’s sustainable,” Coxwell says.
Indeed, across the nation, in response to the electronification of information and the demise of freestanding locally owned bookstores, a new movement is growing, evidenced through the IndieBound website. Coxwell is excited that Fyler has agreed to join the movement. At Books, the new-book room has been updated, and while it continues to showcase local and regional books, there will also be books from the IndieBound bestseller list. This list is compiled by IndieBound stores based on customer choice. Titles featured on National Public Radio will also be in stock. The children’s section is being expanded and updated as well.
You can come to Books and spend an afternoon browsing. You can call the store and have them order something you want, and it will arrive at least as fast as if you clicked in your order on the Internet. You can also call and have someone look for a book and call you back if it’s on the shelf. You could find the most recent volume by Craig Childs, Malcolm Brooks, Gillian Flynn, Diana Gabaldon, or anyone else on the IndieBound bestseller list. Perhaps you could find the Chilton’s guide for your 1983 Chevy pickup, or an old copy of “Goodnight Moon” for your grandchild.
Books will be having a tent sale on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 6 and 7, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., in the parking lot behind the store.
Inside the tent you’ll find super deals, with books priced up to 75 percent off. Inside, everything in the store will have a 10 percent discount. A percentage of proceeds from the sale will be donated to the Four Corners Child Advocacy Center, to promote reading among youth. The store will be donating books to the center as well. They’ve also got an expanded and renewed display at Let it Grow in Cortez.
Cortez’s only bookstore is alive and well. Support your local economy, support free speech, help build a sustainable community, recycle, and promote independent thinking and living by stopping in to browse. And if you’re surfing the web, go ahead, Books is online too. “Like” them on Facebook (after you’ve stopped in!).