Yes, you read that right. Carbondale has a bookstore again. White River Books is located on Second Street, between Main Street and the Rio Grande Trail.
Owner Izzy Stringham said, since welcoming her first customers on March 3, “pretty much everyone is over the moon that there’s a bookstore back in town.” Carbondale has not had an independently-owned bookstore since Novel-Tea, formerly located in the Dinkel Building, closed its doors in 2010.
Stringham acknowledges that opening a bookstore is “a risky business” and that selling books is not a big moneymaker. But she sees a movement away from big-box bookstores and e-books. “People are setting down their Kindles and want paper books. They value that their town has a bookstore and need to go there and buy books. I think people are willing to do that now,” she said.
Stringham, a self-described introvert, added, with a laugh, “I can talk your ear off, but I love my quiet time.” She grew up on a little organic farm in Oregon, “with a hippie family that had no TV until 1992.”
The farm was “tons of mud, work and taking care of animals.” As a child, she dedicated her free time to reading. She fondly recalled, “Every Thursday, my mom would take us to the library, and I would bring home this huge stack.”
She attended the Denver Publishing Institute and has a bachelor’s degree in literature from the University of Portland in Oregon, and has worked in both physical and online bookstores.
In 2002, Stringham moved to the Roaring Fork Valley to work as an intern for Challenge Aspen, where she taught adaptive skiing.
The business venture is a family affair. Her husband, Lars, works as a snowboard instructor for Aspen Skiing Company and as a contractor. He used his carpentry skills to build the bookcase shelving and install floors. Now, he’s back to work at Snowmass, but once the season ends, he’ll be helping out at the store.
Their daughters, Nicola, in ninth grade at Roaring Fork High School, and Brynn, in seventh grade at Carbondale Middle School, unpacked boxes of books and organized them alphabetically onto shelves. They also gave Mom input on book titles for the middle school and young adult sections, based on what they and their friends read. The daughters often come by after school to hang out at the store.
Stringham said the limitations of the 550-square-foot storefront factor into decisions. “You don’t realize it until you’re faced with a pile of books and your square footage,” she said.
Books for sale include a broad selection of new bestsellers and titles on award lists, like the Booker Prize and National Book Award winners. Stringham has offerings from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Kirkus Reviews critiques, and titles from indie lists and the American Booksellers Association.
However, as she reiterated, “I have access to millions of titles that I can special order,” which takes about a week for delivery.
The space is aesthetically pleasing, with large windows that create an open feel and provide a warm and welcoming light. A smattering of chairs invites you to peruse the merchandise more deeply. “I don’t mind if people want to come in and sit and look at a book before they decide to buy.” Her only request is that you “read them gently.”
The used book selection is about 10% of the inventory, with most titles published within the past two years. Her philosophy on used books is two-fold: “If you don’t buy new, the author doesn’t make money. And I feel strongly that authors need to be paid for their work. And, for me, it’s a balance of offering a smaller section, with a price point for people who may not be able to afford a $30 hardcover right now.”
There are also journals, puzzles, games, greeting cards and a small art supply selection of markers and pens for the journal writers and doodlers among us. Activity and coloring books for kids are on order.
When talking about the tactile feel of turning the pages and the distinctive pulpy smell of paper, Stringham shared a story about her father, who passed away eight years ago. “He’s the reason I read. I still have books he gave me as a teenager. He would always write in the front, and it’s really special to have those now, with his handwriting in them. It’s such a personal thing.”
One first-week surprise was a 12-year-old asking for a job. Stringham told her, “Not yet, but bring me your resume for when you’re older.”