Coyote Ridge Books

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Coyote Ridge and the Death of the Bookstore
by Emily Johnson

Bookstores will be extinct by the end of the 20th century, they said.

"This is a silly type of store to open nowadays. Retail’s dead.” 

Well, we’re still watching and waiting.

I’m sticking with the stubborn holdouts who squinting, try to see and make an alternate future.

When Matt first talked about buying Coyote Ridge Books, as a family we were pretty amazed. On one hand it was unsurprising—our parents had raised us to be booklovers, and all of us worked in either editorial or marketing careers.

My brother joked that out of anyone, he was actually the least bookish in the family. Still pretty bookish, though. And he’d always been the most entrepreneurial member of the family, and also not one to go in for mainstream conventional wisdom.

So he was able to look past the naysayer mentality—and see the possibilities for a new retail model, combining different threads into a tapestry of socially engaged book trading.

We came of age hearing various fear-mongering stories about bookstores—they’ve been expected to die any day now since Amazon first burst on the scene in 1994.

That same year, we spent our Friday nights at Borders, cause my friend Kris worked there, and we could hang out ‘til she got out, and we were in high school in the suburbs and not enterprising enough to score booze—we hopped up on caffeine and ganja and books.

I first saw Martin Buber’s books on some mysterious “I-Thou” dynamic while wandering the aisles. A collection of Joni Mitchell’s lyrics made me realize that books could come out of unusual sources. Germaine “Sodding” Greer’s feminism sat strangely next to Diary of Bridget Jones. They had a locked up cabinet of books that were stolen too oftenNaked Lunch, Anarchist’s Cookbook, Madonna’s Sex

Borders had been by far the better store, but Barnes & Noble sought monopoly—and in hindsight, overreached. They were suddenly everywhere, overexposed. To me the stores’ design made no sense—they had cavernous ceilings but fewer shelves, and not a very wide selection. Their kitschy drawings and clean inclusion of Starbucks ultimately sang out the death knell for Borders, but I always found the B/N vibe too antiseptic and yuppie.

Not that I would go in those really old book stores that smelled of dust and age and heavy neglect, but I always found Borders to be happily disheveled, and more to the point, I always found more actual books crammed on their shelves.


Fast forwarding to when I first visited Coyote Ridge.

It had several rooms, books piled up to the ceiling in some cases, and every genre you could think of. I picked up a few older books in a stack, printed covers dominated by Helvetica from the 60s, chatted with Matt and the patrons about this and that title, was introduced to some exciting “Western” authors (this is Colorado), and had a surprising burst of nostalgia.

But what was that nostalgia for? I couldn’t have told you it had been important to me before the feeling hit, but it intensely reminded me of Borders late on a Friday night (10 pm late).

Even weirder, I felt so comfortable it was as if I’d always been coming there; I was just coming back after a long time.

I never get that feeling in Barnes & Noble, but I get it in the bookstores in Chicago that also serve as cultural community centers.

I see lots of bold book entrepreneurs trying to make something happen, and I egg them on—

    + they keep the model growing
    + bring new inspiration and new opportunity with other arts communities
    + stewards of our common intellectual heritage. 

And I think, not today will I be a naysayer, voting in a horserace I lose if I win.

Even books—a solitary, introverted, so-called antisocial activity—even books, when taken out of a larger context of community, seem to lose their importance.

Because though I’m happy for the convenience, I can’t imagine how getting a book in the mail could be a memorable experience. Or how impoverished my love of books would be if there was no one to talk about it with afterwards. 

This is part of a series of posts commemorating the five year anniversary of Coyote Ridge Books. If you liked this post, check out this one. 

Never a Bad Day at a Book Store