(Author’s Note: Christie is the owner of the Gallery Book Shop in Mendocino (gallerybookshop.com). She grew up in Woodenville, outside Seattle, Washington, and lived in that area until she moved here with her family to Mendocino County in 1998. Her family includes her husband, Ryan, a teacher, and their two kids, Collin and Susannah. When I asked her what she was reading, she said “Master & Commander by Patrick O'Brian. I finally picked up this series, which seems to capture every bookseller sooner or later.” Then I asked why they decided to come and live here…)
We wanted to move but still live near the ocean because my husband surfs, and while visiting the north California coast we discovered you can’t live on a teacher’s salary within sight of the ocean anywhere south of here… so this is where we decided to come. Although I wanted to take some time off for awhile, I visited the Gallery Bookshop and saw they had a job opening. That was irresistable so I started working here right away.
After working here a few years, my husband, Ryan, and I would talk about what would keep us staying here, and I said if I had a career I could live here forever. One day, in 2006, I glibly emailed the owner, Tony Miksak, that if he ever get to the point of thinking about retiring, I might be interested in buying it. Unbeknownst to me, he had already been making plans to retire. He got back to me and said, “Great. Let’s do it.” Yikes, I hadn’t expected that.
One of the things I love about book selling is that it’s never boring. You’re buying books, you’re unpacking books, you’re talking to customers about them… it’s interesting every day. Most booksellers were scared in 2007 because eBook reading was hitting the mainstream and then the recession hit. There was an alarming tone in the air at the book conferences, but we’ve become much more optimistic since then.
Then we had a fire on January 8th, 2008. All 30,000 books were damaged by smoke and dampness. Having our store threatened so dramatically was a galvanizing experience for our community.
It is fruitless to try and compete on price with Amazon. They don’t have to make money from their book division and they never have. Their books are a loss leader. They can drive down the value of books with impunity. We are essentially offering a whole different thing that I believe has great value. To be able to come into the store, to look at books, to be near other people, to talk about books with other people… that has great value and is worth paying for.
We have a membership program where we share access to the Advanced Reading Copies that publishers send us. It has real tangible value to customers that is not discounting or driving down the value of books, that we can afford to do.
Our sales are about half to locals, have to visitors. A lot of this community is informed and invested in the idea supporting local, independent businesses. I think everybody is realizing the fun and importance of browsing and stumbling on cool books. So many of us bonded with bookstores as kids and understand it’s a good thing to have in your life. And kids just love books and are such avid readers and such avid collectors. They want to own their books and not that interested in reading on a screen. You see it in here during the summers when so many families are around. A beautifully illustrated kids book can’t really be replicated onscreen. Books are personal artifacts that feel like friends… a repository of our memories and our past.
The store is 52 years old now, I’m the third owner, but it doesn’t feel like it’s my toy… I’m really just a steward for the community who has custody of it for awhile… and I need to take good care of it and pass it on when the time comes.
(Coming up: Bruce Anderson, Editor and Publisher of this fine newspaper. I have been an avid reader of the AVA for many years and have a pretty good grasp of Bruce’s opinions. But other than some brief mentions of “the Marines” and “playing baseball,” I, along with many of you, would like to know a little more about who this man is and the history of the Anderson Valley Advertiser. So, despite his protestations, he agreed to participate in this series of interviews. —DS)