Idaho's Best Sellers 

Celebrating Independent Bookstore Day across the Gem State

It wasn't that long ago that brick-and-mortar bookstores were bad investments, and owning one was a financial albatross. Online sellers like Amazon undercut their prices, and the advent of e-readers like Amazon Kindle made "treeware"—a derogatory term for books—look obsolete by comparison.

Then, something dramatic happened. Bookstores around the country made a resurgence, growing in number across the U.S. by 35% between 2009 and 2015, according to the American Booksellers Association. Today, that organization boasts 2,509 members, and an estimated 165 new bookstores are planning to open nationwide.

On Saturday, April 27, booksellers in Idaho will join others around the U.S. to observe Independent Bookstore Day. To mark the event this year, Boise Weekly has come up with a guide to some of Idaho's most celebrated shops.

BookPeople of Moscow, Moscow

click to enlarge BOOKPEOPLE OF MOSCOW
  • BookPeople of Moscow

1973 was an important year for the City of Moscow. It saw the founding of what would become the Moscow Food Co-op, the University of Idaho Women's Center, the Moscow Renaissance Fair and a downtown staple: BookPeople of Moscow.

"I think the fact that it's still going today indicates how important that kind of place is to the cohesiveness of the community," said founder Ivar Nelson in an interview.

The shop has changed a lot in the last 45 years. In 1999, a team of volunteers helped move some 30,000 volumes from BookPeople's original location across Main Street in 28-degree weather to where the store is today, and under the co-ownership and management of Carol Price, it expanded its selection of new books to reduce competition—there's a thriving used bookstore in nearby Pullman, Washington—and cater to the local readership.

"There's a lot of diversity here," Price said about the selection of books. "In terms of the sections I concentrate on, I try to have children's books, a lot of cookbooks—that's one of my favorite things. We sell a lot of nonfiction. The people here love to be out doing stuff, and there are a lot of people who want to be current with science and math, ecology and the natural world."

She and her now ex-husband bought BookPeople eight years ago, when online merchants were applying critical pressure to indie booksellers, and Price said the acquisition didn't always feel like a wise move. Today, Independent Bookstore Day feels like a "celebration."

"We have come to a good place, where I feel very confident about our future. In general, there are still a lot of people who don't understand why shopping locally is important, but more people than ever understand why local shopping is important," she said.

The Barn Owl Books and Gifts, McCall

click to enlarge AMY COOPER
  • Amy Cooper

McCall Drug wasn't a big place, but what it didn't have in size, it made up for in appeal. In it were hundreds of games and toys, a 1950s-style soda fountain that actually worked, a pharmacy and Blue Grouse Book Shop, the only independent bookstore in town. It closed in 2016 after being bought by Albertsons and converted into a Sav-on Pharmacy, but there wasn't a gap for long.

Enter The Barn Owl Books and Gifts. It opened in 2017, and so far, reception to it has been warm, according to Amy Cooper, who owns the store with her husband, Mike. An independent bookstore, she said, is the "backbone" of any small area, but pivoting into running one was a dramatic move, particularly for them.

"I had taken a year off from my previous career, and we came back to McCall, and neither my husband nor I could live in a community without a bookstore. Without a clue about how to do it, we started a bookstore," she said.

(Amy's previous career was in animal welfare leadership, and The Barn Owl has partnered with local pet shelter MCPAWS, keeping an adoptable cat in the store. Amy said they've helped home 12 cats so far.)

Local history is high on people's readings lists. So are books on the outdoors and travel guides—a large number of McCall residents tend to travel, both within the U.S. and internationally.

"There seems to be unlimited World War II historical fiction," Amy said, and books like The Alice Network and its follow-up, The Huntress, have been popular, in large part because of her efforts. "I sold and sold and sold that book, and the joy isn't ringing it up on the cash register," she said. "It grabbed a hold of me, and I think you'd like it, too."

Walrus & Carpenter Books, Pocatello

click to enlarge ROGER BOE
  • Roger Boe

Will Peterson said he has seen a lot of businesses come and go from downtown Pocatello. For almost 31 years, he has owned Walrus & Carpenter Books there, and apart from a Barnes & Noble in Idaho Falls, "I'm the only other store in an area as big as Bavaria."

"Right now, I'm an anchor for downtown," he said. "But I'm right next to a fly fishing shop, which is really nice. Here and there we have some pretty good blocks, but that old-town Pocatello is pretty distressed."

Peterson has a personality as big as the area he serves. His sense of humor is self-deprecating and often bitter—traits exemplified in how his shop got its name. He said he was dissatisfied with Pocatello when he moved there from Twin Falls in 1988 ("It felt like Boise in 1890") and irritated with the effort of opening a new business when, while moving some items from the back of the store, a paper slipped out bearing a picture of a coffee mug and the walrus and carpenter, characters Peterson described as "the two biggest dickheads on Earth" as they're represented in Lewis Carroll's poem.

"I ended up with these two beautiful images, and people don't think about my bitter feelings," Peterson said.

Peterson has no plans for Independent Bookstore Day, which falls a few weeks after the Rocky Mountain Writers Festival that he founded in 1990 to showcase the work of local authors. In the beginning, there was a strong presence of local writers. Since then, a few generations of scribblers have come and gone. This year's festival will feature the return of Idaho-based collection The Limberlost Review.

"When I first came to town, there was just a crop of really great writers here in Pocatello," he said. "Well, they all ended up dying. ... Now, there are young writers coming up. They're all young writers, and I'm just the grandfather."

The Well-Read Moose, Coeur d'Alene

click to enlarge THE WELL-READ MOOSE
  • The Well-Read Moose

In the early 2010s, Melissa DeMotte didn't have plans to own a bookstore. She has a background in finance, and at the time she was the chief financial officer of a California-based company that made loans to low-income communities. Then, the Borders Books in Coeur d'Alene closed, and for years afterward, she drove past the building feeling like there was a hole in her life. During a bucket-list trip with her mother to New York, she attended a booksellers conference, and on May 31, 2014, she opened The Well-Read Moose in Coeur d'Alene. She said she felt the demand for a new local bookstore immediately.

"When we first opened, we had people who wanted to sleep in the store because it had a new-book smell," she said.

DeMotte didn't know the first thing about running a bookstore in the early days, but she said she has gotten plenty of support from other booksellers in the region (including Rediscovered Books in Boise), and used Above the Treeline, a bookstore sales and order data tracker, to build her first big book purchase tailored to suit her customers. Five years later, she said she has a grasp of what readers in Coeur d'Alene want—historical fiction, character-driven nonfiction, graphic novels and children's literature. In addition to an official store book club, she said eight other book clubs have taken root, and use The Well-Read Moose as their home base.

"You don't know your buyers until you've been at it for a while, but now we have all this history," she said.

She has also built connections to local schools and the library, but one of her regrets is not purchasing the local used bookstore when it went out of business a few years ago, and she has toyed with building a mobile bookstore to serve nearby rural communities. Until then, she'll keep proving the haters wrong.

DeMotte recalled that when she first opened The Well-Read Moose, "Somebody had written a letter to the editor in the paper. They made a comment about, 'Well, there goes another [Small Business Administration] loan down the toilet.' What's interesting is, there are still e-book sales, but people miss the tactile."

Rediscovered Books, Boise

click to enlarge HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry

For almost 13 years, Rediscovered Books has been where Boise goes for new literature. While it weathered the early storms that toppled big-box sellers like Borders, it established itself as an early pillar of the buy-local movement that helped revitalize downtown.

Rediscovered has also been savvy about revitalizing itself. That process started when owners Bruce and Laura DeLaney sold their other business, All About Games, and expanded Rediscovered into an adjacent space formerly occupied by Lux Fashion Lounge. The extra room has let the DeLaneys grow their stock of books—Rediscovered now boasts one of the most extensive and up-to-date children's book collections in the state—and host larger readings, book signings and other literary activities.

"It's the support the Boise community has shown us that gave us the confidence to make the expansion," Bruce said.

That support has remained high, in part due to the shop's close ties to literary organizations like the Boise Public Library and The Cabin, and the launch of Rediscovered Publishing, which has released several titles to date, including A Kid's Guide to Boise and Half the World. It also cultivated goodwill in the City of Trees when it bought used bookstore Rainbow Books in 2018. The State Street shop, now called Once & Future Books, has been renovated, and its large collection has been reorganized under the new ownership. This year for Independent Bookstore Day, it will host a Devri Walls book-signing event, book bingo, "blind date with a book" and literary trivia.

Rediscovered is a draw for people across Boise, though it chiefly serves downtown. There are some neighborhoods in the City of Trees that don't have bookstores at all though, used or new, and Bruce said he sees opportunity.

"We think there would be support for more bookstores in the Treasure Valley," he said.


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