For a long time, I’ve collected the bits and pieces of bookstore memories. In a white box with folded flaps, I’ve stuffed the stuff of approximately 4,800 days of Inklings life so far. Yesterday, I pulled it out and sat down in a sunbeam at my dining table for an afternoon of wonder, embarrassment, laughter and memories.
One packet in my box is a list of the books in our opening inventory, circa 2000. With help from Ingram and the brain-picking of every expert we knew from historians to mathematicians, we compiled our opening inventory. It’s fun to see which titles have endured and which ones have disappeared without a trace. The list reflects our idealism tempered by a dose of caution as we spent the first of our borrowed money to fill our new shelves. We had the oak stain on our fingers and the stars in our eyes.
Speaking of borrowed money, the paperwork is still in the box that outlines our ambitious business plan and loan applications. More than just optimistic, it is also dreadfully naive. Looking back, I’m amazed that a local bank took a chance on our dream. I still have the check register that shows what we were paying our employees, which sidelines we were carrying and what kind of advertising we were doing. Checks to local TV stations remind me of the great ad spots that we produced ourselves to save money. One involved a chihuahua. Enough said.
We have lucked out in so many respects. Old ad copy, newspaper articles and photos show that we have witnessed some bestsellers that have kept bookstores at the forefront of popular culture. Books such as Harry Potter and the Twilight series have fueled a new generation of voracious readers. Books by C.S. Lewis and Tolkien have seen a resurgence of interest, too, and having movies made doesn’t hurt. It’s been a good time to be Inklings. One Hobbit movie down. Two to go.
Some things have changed a lot. Borders came. Borders went.
In the old days we phoned in our orders to distributors every day because reps didn’t know who we were. We worked too many hours, broke down a lot of cardboard and took catalogs on vacation. We had events that no one attended and made mistakes every day but we met a lot of people who loved books, too. Each week held new surprises as authors offered us their best and brightest work.
We hosted authors such as Garth Stein, Jamie Ford, Tim Egan, Nancy Pearl, Debbie Macomber and Garrison Keillor and the newspaper clippings show surprise in our faces at how well things went—at how well they usually went. Chris Crutcher, I still feel bad about that one night.
People have changed and children have grown. Our own kids have all worked at the store. Some of the story time kids in photographs are now in college. The book clubs, knitting groups and even the Society of Germans Born in Russia that have met in our store have enriched our lives. We are in a different location than where we started because, well, location, location, location. Had we stayed where we were, we’d be only a memory in someone’s scrapbook.
There is still some room in my memory box so we will continue to invite authors, stuff plastic Easter eggs, write ad copy, negotiate leases, hang flags, sell tickets for high school plays, fulfill school orders, sell books at Town Hall, participate in World Book Night, provide live music and welcome Santa. I’m kind of newly motivated to take more pictures and continue to document the drama because, you know, I wish we had pictures of the wreckage after that lady passed out and knocked down our entire card display. She is ok, by the way.
The hard things do happen. Our store came to a horrified standstill that one September day. And when other bad news is shared over the counter, we mourn with our customers about school shootings, a job loss or the death of a special pet. There will always be toilets to unclog, lost books to find, Internet issues, messes to clean up and cash flow problems. But every new day is filled with the ongoing, addicting electricity of ideas and words being released from their brown boxes, floating around the store and being found and adopted by someone willing to entertain them for awhile.
We hear a lot of “thank-you’s” and they far, far outnumber any grumpy comments. We get chocolate, flowers, kudos and now we know for sure that we are loved because we were yarn-bombed last winter. No question of the love. I’ll always remember that.
Susan Richmond owns Inklings Bookshop in Yakima, WA, open for 12 years. She saves things like buttons, baby teeth and birthday cards. This causes her to pile things, poke them in boxes and put them in purgatory, aka her husband’s garage. Then she reads an article or book on organization and does a periodic, painful purge, freeing up room to begin again, Michael Finnigan.