Our Bookstore

Dashing from the cold into a warm bookstore, a tinkling jingle bell signaling my arrival, books greeting me from stacks piled high on tables. Worn wooden slat paths, leading into a forest of bookshelves in every direction. It smells musty and like burned coffee, like old bindings and yellowed paper pages. It’s The Bookstore, and every used bookstore I’ve ever loved.

Isn’t there something magical and wonderful about getting lost in the used bookstore? Letting your eyes direct you, wandering free form from section to section, until your eyes and your heart match up and find the perfect prize. Or when you go in with determination, willing the universe to help you find exactly what you’re looking for, a collection of Roald Dahl paperbacks, a biography of Agincourt, the Joy of Cooking. Something specific, or something serendipitous – the used bookstore is a realm unto itself of possibilities.

A great and marvelous town must always have a fine used bookstore. Our great and marvelous town has one, but The Bookstore is teetering on a precipice of uncertainty. If you haven’t heard already, the new owners need to come up with a pretty big sack of ducats to save The Bookstore – $35,000 to be specific. And that’s just to keep it open; it won’t be used for operating costs – it seems like a fair few people were confused about that. First, they must buy the bookstore, and that’s where the 35k comes in. Some of you have asked, “What will they do next month?” And to you I say, “They will be owning and running a bookstore.” 

Josh Mills has been sitting behind the desk, surrounded by stacks of books, the Keeper of The Bookstore for 20 something years. In that time, he owned another bookstore in Cedarville, called Great Basin Books, he met and fell in love with a pretty girl that came in looking for literary treasure, Muir Hughes, he started a family in Chico, he sold Great Basin Books, and he is now trying to find a way to save The Bookstore. And in doing so, launched a fingers-crossed, Hail Mary by way of an Indiegogo.com campaign.

The campaign (www.indiegogo.com/ilovebooks) kicked off with a pretty swift surge of donations. As of writing this, they’re more than halfway to their goal with about a month left to raise the remainder. I sat down with Josh, Muir, Ender & Seven to talk about the campaign and ways to support The Bookstore in the future. Josh had been working non-stop in the shop, stopping only for Christmas Day.

When I asked him how many books were in The Bookstore, he said, “Oh…um…a lot.” He has 50,000-60,000 books in the shop and about 150,000 more in a warehouse waiting to come in, though the process is bottlenecked as every title must go through Josh for pricing and purveyance. Josh and his impressive beard have been book hunting for at least 20 years, buying private libraries, searching for stacks of sellable tomes. His best find? He said, “Value-wise, the Faulkner.” The Faulkner sold for $2500 as a part of a package perk early in the fundraising campaign. But Josh’s most valued treasure is a leather-bound journal belonging to someone that lived in a big old house, all handwritten, about hauntings. “An old, crusty, haunting book,” he says laughing, “Or a hippie journal from a guy here in Chico, his personal account of life in Chico in the 60’s, hand drawn.” That old hippie journal inspired a conversation about small press authors and Josh wanted to explicitly invite and encourage local small press authors to bring their books into the store to be featured. Muir and Josh are both dedicated to supporting local authors and artists via The Bookstore.

Other future plans include, weekly children’s story-hour, poetry readings, community events, backyard art receptions, more space inside for sitting and lingering, and lifting the ban on food and drink. Josh lights up and laughs a little when he mentions tearing down the No Food & Drink sign. “The vibe is so different, it makes people so happy to carry around their coffee and look at books. There have been a couple of spills, but you know…it’s ok.” I asked Josh about his vision for the bookstore, “It’s sorta already been my bookstore for so long.” To which Muir chimed, “I have LOTS of ideas.” They envision The Bookstore as an extension of their family. Family and art, love and community, it’s everything they are and hope to teach their children, Ender & Seven. Seven knows where all the children’s books are and she and her brother will be working a little in the shop. “They’ve been making and selling art since they were born,” Muir says cheerily, “we’re a close family and we want to be a giving part of this community.”

Going forward, how can we support this magical must-have downtown resource? Josh and Muir encourage you to like their facebook page, come down, check it out, stop in for a poetry reading, or for story-hour. “And keep giving us ideas, we’re in a pretty open phase right now,” Josh wants you to know. “We never expected this kind of public support. It’s a lot of people, a lot of love, and it’s really neat.”

The Bookstore has fundraisers in the works, including a benefit coming up at the DownLo on Friday, January 25th at 8pm. The show is called “Let ‘Em Read” and will feature the Living Karaoke Band.

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