After working at St. Helens Book Shop for several years, Lori Cardiff took over for long-time owner Luanne Kreutzer two-and-a-half years ago. (St. Helens, Oregon, is about thirty miles north of Portland.) Cardiff runs the store with a unique perspective, having served as a teacher, a nonprofit fund-raiser, a member of the St. Helens Public Library Board and a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa. She's the mother of two boys and is a gardener, a kayaker, an energetic juggler of many roles.
Kristin Thiel, of Indigo Editing and Publications, asked her a few questions.
You say in your bio on the store’s website: “I didn’t know I needed to be a business owner until I found this business. The idea reached out and grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.” That’s pretty intense! Tell us more about this. Moving to a small town was wonderful in so many ways, yet a little scary as well. We wondered where we would find all of the engaging places and activities we had grown accustomed to in Portland. As it turns out, there is a thriving community here—and there is a bookstore. I started out as an employee, and when Luanne said she was going to join her husband in retirement, I knew that I needed to pick up the torch. I have been running ever since.
For someone like me, who grew up in the urban Midwest—in other words, sprawl—St. Helens could be a suburb of Portland. But it’s very much its own town. How do you operate as both a distinct small-town resource and part of a greater Portland-area community of booksellers? We are very much a community store. We know our customers: We know their kids, their favorite books, and what they're going to be excited about. We greet many of them by name and are quick to get to know those we haven’t met. We are also part of a bigger community that includes both the smaller towns of Columbia County and the wider Portland metro area. We work hard (with varying degrees of success) to get the word out about events and workshops and invite the wider community to participate. We have really great events, and we want people to know it is often a faster (and did I mention prettier?) drive to St. Helens than it is to Gresham or Beaverton!
You recently started hosting adult and teen writing workshops at the store. What led you in this direction? Our biggest push with these workshops is connecting with teens. This is a hard audience to reach, and an incredibly busy one. We wanted to provide an alternative to sports or music that connects teens with authors. We knew there were teen writers out there, and we realized we were in a unique position to connect these young writers with published authors. Our feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and the reading we held at the end of the workshop was amazing.
St. Helens is well-known for its partnerships with local authors like Chuck Palahniuk. Most of his signed and inscribed books are shipped through your store. Has spotlighting autographed copies helped sales? We do great with autographed books, even after events our sell-through is really good, especially on children’s books (and of course Chuck’s books).
I hear you even went to Chuck Palahniuk’s house recently, to collect signed copies of his latest. Can you give us some juicy gossip? Let’s see . . . I could tell you, but I’d probably have to kill you! And then I might wind up a character in one of his books! I will tell you that, for all his fame and fortune, Chuck is one of the most down-to-earth, sincere people I have ever met, and it trul
y is a pleasure to work with him.
OK, handsell us your favorite title right now. I love, love, love The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I am selling it to anyone who wants a read that they just can’t put down, and I haven’t heard a negative report yet!
Which is more difficult, keeping a small bookstore afloat right now, or serving in the Peace Corps? Both can be fairly lonely operations, even though there are people all around you. Actually there are a lot of parallels. Foremost would be, although a lot of people say things like “I’d love to do something like that,” what they are really thinking is probably more like, “That’s just plain crazy—you wouldn’t catch me doing that.”
Recently it took most of a day struggling with wires and drivers for me to finally have a working receipt printer . . . Did I really sign on for owning a bookstore?
I have to ask, how was the PNBA Tradeshow for you this year? Anything—book-biz talk, forthcoming titles, author personalities—surprising or particularly exciting? It was a whirlwind—we had Anna Dewdney (author/illustrator of the Llama Llama series) visit our store on the Friday of the show—but I loved it! The best part was, of course, Flirts [the hosting hotel’s bar] with Jonathan Evison (West of Here) on the scene buying rounds for anyone who would have one. Johnny introduced me to Joshua Mohr, who was there promoting his new book, Damascus. All I can say is if you haven’t read it yet, READ IT! This author is going places!
We’re approaching a new calendar year. Tease us with some of what’s upcoming at the store. We are looking forward to a new teen writing workshop in January based on Tom Spanbauer’s Dangerous Writing, and we hope to have some very exciting guest authors . . . And, exciting news: I won a scholarship to Winter Institute, hosted by the American Booksellers Association.
Kristin Thiel is senior editor and director of community engagement at Indigo Editing & Publications. She also reviews books regularly, and sometimes she just flat-out lists her favorites. One of her short stories was included in Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience (Other Voices Books/Dzanc Books). She has volunteered at the PNBA tradeshow for five years, and this is her third interview with NWBookLovers.org.