Deon and Richard Stonehouse and their CEO (Canine Executive Officer), Flashman, opened Sunriver Books & Music in 2005. Deon says opening the store was the result of a lifelong love affair with books, and, yeah, she’s probably one of the most hard-reading booksellers we know. The store hosts five reading groups, and Deon reads and meets with four of the groups (Richard reads with the nonfiction club). She also sits on the awards committee for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association and reads more than a hundred books a year in that role. She’s no skimmer, either. Check out her many recommendations at the end of this interview.
Sunriver Books is a passionately dog-friendly family operation. Deon’s octogenarian mother is the store’s Queen of Receiving, and her poodle, Sasha, greets customers, along with CEO Flashman.
We were moved to feature Sunriver after receiving an unsolicited letter from Laura Colburn, a Sun River regular who wanted us to know how much the store does for its community.
We asked Deon a few questions.
What’s the best thing about being a bookseller? There are so many wonderful things about being a bookseller! We have so many people I look forward to seeing in our store. I’m interested in hearing what they’re reading, telling them about books I have enjoyed, and hearing how they are doing. Laura Colburn (the aforementioned letter writer) is a great example of what makes being a bookseller special. She is so well- read, involved in the community, and I love her “bookstore tourism” when she travels. Without people like Laura we would not survive.
Our store’s five book clubs are a big part of our social lives. They are such great groups, and so awesomely intelligent in their understanding and comments on the books they read.
The authors are great, too! Garth Stein helped us raise more than $1,600 for the Sunriver Nature Center. Jane Kirkpatrick is doing a walk with us to benefit Newberry Habitat for Humanity. Meg Tilly spent time with the school children at Three Rivers School. It’s a pleasure to get to know some of these remarkably talented, giving writers.
I have an excuse to read constantly. I love the way Lloyd Jones describes the joy of reading in his marvelous novel Mister Pip. A girl is introduced to Dickens and has this to say: “As we progressed through the book something happened to me. At some point I felt myself enter the story. I hadn’t been assigned a part – nothing like that; I wasn’t identifiable on the page, but I was there, I was definitely there . . .”
The worst? I guess it would be people who use independent bookstores to shop at Amazon or buy at a discount at Walmart or Costco. From time to time, and with increasing frequency, we have people come to the store, take stacks of books to make notes on, and ask for recommendations on the best books. Then they announce that they only read and purchase on Amazon’s Kindle. I don’t hate Amazon. I think they have a search engine that rocks, and they serve a purpose in communities lacking independent bookstores. But if customers are going to use our brick-and-mortar store and its staff and merchandise in buying decisions, they need to realize there’s a cost. We must pay rent and salaries and buy real printed books to put on the shelves.
Even worse are the few really cheeky folk who come in for a rundown on the latest bestseller and then announce they’re buying it at Walmart or Costco. What are they thinking? Costco and Walmart are cheaper precisely because they do not have staff to help with your buying decisions; they do not have people knowledgeable about the books. They sell in volume while we cater to personal service. I love recommending books, but I wonder if we can survive if people use us in this way. I don’t think they realize the high cost of buying cheap. Walmart, Costco and Amazon are not going to invest in their community.
Describe Sunriver’s community and neighborhood? Sunriver is gorgeous! We’re bordered to the West by the Deschutes River and the Deschutes National Forest. We sit near the base of Mt. Bachelor. There are 35 miles of biking and walking trails in Sunriver, and there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails in the surrounding forest. There are two championship golf courses in Sunriver and more in the surrounding areas. If you like the out of doors, this is a little bit of paradise.
Will you tell us about some of your regular customers? Jean lives in another city but brings me her book club list to fill every year. Steve and Carole sit on the chair lift up at Mt. Bachelor encouraging the skiers to stop by the bookstore. Carol and Judith worked tirelessly to help us move a gazillion books when we were flooded. Dwayne is an exceedingly bright, busy man. He came into the store the other day to talk about e-books. With his travel schedule he would like to have an e-reader but would not buy one until we could sell e-books for the device. I was happy to tell him about Google books available on our website and advised buying any device but a Kindle for compatible downloading. Isn’t he a prince?
How do the Google books work? We now have the capacity to supply our customers with this medium. It’s pretty simple. They just click on the Google e-book icon and download the book onto their device. It’s a good move for independent bookstores to be able to supply this need.
What other shops do you visit in your neighborhood? Sunriver Sports is my go-to place for outdoor clothing. They have Mountain Hardware, Sporthill, hiking boots, and, for our CEO they carry Rough Wear (he likes his Rough Wear coat). Signature Imports and The Oregon Store are great places to shop for gifts.
What’s the best lunch within walking distance? Café Sintra is my favorite. They make a salmon and apple pizza that is delicious.
Sunriver is a dog-friendly store. How does that work for you? We have this whole free sales force walking around on four paws in Sunriver. We give the dogs treats so they don’t want to miss their stop at the bookstore. I have been informed by customers that their dogs pull them to our store. I couldn’t pay for that kind of advertising and customer loyalty. People are so grateful to have a place they can shop with their dogs. They really enjoy the dog-friendly environment. Dogs are not terribly interested in the books, so there’s no issue with damage. They just want to have their treat and hang out while their human pages through books.
What dog books do you like to sell? Some of our favorite dog books include:
Food Pets Die For by Ann Martin lays bare some of the misinformation the multi-billion dollar pet food industry uses to bamboozle the public.
Before and After Getting Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar is a wonderful book for puppy training.
For a very heartwarming story, I love Steve Duno’s Last Dog on the Hill. Sometimes, if you look carefully and you are very lucky, you will see all your promise reflected back to you in the eyes of a dog. They know, these dogs. They look at you and challenge you to be better than you thought you could, to grab life in great big gulps, and to love without condition. Steve met such a dog driving through the Redwood Forest with his girlfriend. His heart was hijacked by this homeless tick-infested pup, who he named Lou. Plucked from his pack, trundled off to LA where he makes pals with street gangs and sits on the table to watch the city lights, Lou kept his wild dignity. He was Steve’s best friend, his companion, and his co-worker as Steve became a dog trainer. Lou brought cheer into the lives of Alzheimer patients, comforted war veterans, and did therapy with people in need of a bit of canine compassion.
And, for moral outrage, try The Lost Dogs by Jim Gorant. Dante should have designed a circle of Hell just for Michael Vick and his cohorts.The people who rescued his dogs and gave many of them happy endings are heroes. Most of all this is the true story of the dogs. What they endured, what they overcame, and how some of them found well-deserved happy endings. It amazes me that dogs are so willing to forgive and look for the good in life.
Somehow you find time to sit in on your store’s book group discussions. Will you talk about a book that’s had a particularly meaty or lively discussion? There are so many good book club discussions! If I confine myself to 2011, here are a few that stand out:
Fiction Book Club: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen provoked a great discussion. It’s such a rich, multi-layered, complicated yet lively look at the world today. Particularly, we discussed how social change can be affected by literature, harking back to Dickens and Oliver Twist.
Classics Book Club: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was another selection that sparked lively discussion. The characters’ actions were interpreted differently by various members, allowing us all to look at the work in different ways. We talked about the culture represented by different eras, classes, and countries. And we all loved the sensuous power of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s writing.
Mystery Book Club: Scarecrow by Michael Connelly inspired discussions of how the Information Age might have a dark side. We also discussed the decimation of newspapers and the resulting loss of one of our society’s watch dogs.
Travel Essay Book Club: The Journey Home by Edward Abbey was a lively discussion. Ed would have been pleased. We reveled in his passion for the land and talked a lot about the man and his life.
Nonfiction Book Club: Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn was this week’s discussion book. It was one of the best nonfiction discussions thus far. Many of the book club members are considering ways they can be part of positive change. One of the book club members is involved in a group that helps women in Nepal. It’s inspiring to see the group so charged up.
What have you read recently that you want to press into the hands of your customers? There are so many!!!
What fun! Two talented authors writing a rip-snorting mystery in alternating chapters. Paul and Lacey are siblings, nominally adult, living in the family home and growing a cash crop in the basement. They are startled to find a headless corpse in the yard one night. Calling the men in blue is not an option. So they move the body. It’s a wild ride from the start. The authors can do what they will in their alternating chapters; they soon start to kill off each other’s favorite characters and create general mayhem. I couldn’t wait to get from one chapter to the next to see what the response would be, and I was never disappointed. They always had something new up their sleeves.
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I thoroughly enjoyed how succinctly Deon stated the worst thing about being a bookseller. Somehow we need to help the public understand that their actions have a significant impact on the community in which they live. I believe that someday people are going to say “what happened to my town? Where did the brick-and-mortar stores go?”
Nice interview. I totally appreciate Deon’s sentiments about buying locally and supporting businesses within the community.