In 2003, Carolyn Olsen was president of the Shelton-Mason County Chamber of Commerce. Touring stores in the area, she met the owner of a shopping plaza in Shelton, who suggested that a bookstore would be a great tenant for his empty storefront. “I couldn’t get on it fast enough,” she says. “Nine months later we were in business. Six months after that we expanded the store to twice the original size.”
Olsen says opening Sage Book Store was one of the best decisions of her life. She loves the atmosphere and her customers, who she says are almost always in a good mood—because they’ve come to the store to buy a gift or something for themselves.
The store keeps a busy community-minded events schedule. Recently, they participated in a city-wide chocolate parade (the store featured Sipping Dreams cocoa, Theo chocolates and lots of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory imagery on its windows), and they held a Psychic Fair and are planning another (see below). Sage hosts author signings, live music and wine tastings, and Olsen has been working with local retirement centers to offer buses for their residents to visit the store.
“I launched this year with a plan to make money, and it must be aggressive,” she says. “Darn it I am going to make money in 2011 or just plain have fun trying.”
We asked her a few questions.
Describe Sage’s setting and customers? We’re a small rural town. The mindset is logging and timber, but the real draw is retirement property. We’re a county of 217 lakes surrounded on three sides by saltwater. Our customers are awesome. We have it all.
What’s the best lunch within walking distance? Best lunch is the soup we serve on Mondays. Most of the restaurants are closed so we make the absolute best soup and fresh baked bread. We also have a restaurant right next door called The Grill on Railroad.
What are some of the other shops in your neighborhood that you like to visit? We have a floral shop called Lynch Creek Floral that is way more than a flower shop. They have a small coffee shop and lots of gift items. We have the best quilt shop: Sue’s Stitch in Time—amazing fabrics and wonderful staff. Also, Mary Martha’s is a gift shop with many unusual Northwest items. And we have the world-renowned Xinh’s, which has fresh seafood with a Thai Indonesian flavor.
What have you read recently that you want to press into the hands of your customers? Take The Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell, The Little Red Pen by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel and Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
Can you recommend a book that might be off our radar? An Awesome Book of Thanks by Dallas Clayton is one and Contemporary Art on the Northwest Coast by Karen and Ralph Norris is another. When we had a signing with Karen and Ralph Norris, who are local authors, I “knew” we would probably sell maybe five of the $60 books, and we sold 28. We brought in 20, and the authors had eight in their car! I subsequently had to special order five more.
Will you tell us about another recent bestseller by another local author? We had a signing with a local chef who has a cookbook called Nita’s Cooking. Nita Bariekman is 93 and has been baking fresh blackberry pies and making blt’s at her restaurant for almost 50 years. We sold 284 of her books in three days—174 the evening of the event. We have sold just shy of 600 since December.
Whoa. What are some other upcoming events that you’re excited about? We’re having our second Psychic Fair at the end of April. Four local psychics approached us about the first one. We were a little apprehensive since we are a very small town, and we had a few phone calls. What a great night. Each person read for at least six people (at $25 each). They were very happy. And I had 19 more sales that evening for the extra 1.5 hours I was open.
And we have finalized a deal with one of local retirement centers to bring a bus load to our store once a month and we will be a small book mobile once a month.
Name three Northwest authors you’d like to invite to dinner. Susan Wiggs, I think, would be incredible dinner guest. She has so much energy and always has an anecdote to share. It would be simple fare, maybe outside near a roaring fire. Tom Robbins because he makes us laugh. We would duplicate the meal from the movie Mermaids with Cher—everything on toothpicks. Jonathan Evision because he is so Northwest—and smart and fun. We would dig clams and have a salmon bake.