Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bookstore of the Month: Iconoclast Books Redux

There is joy in Sun Valley this month.  Not only has news reached central Idaho that Hailey's hometown hero Bowe Berghdal has been released after being held prisoner by the Taliban for nearly five years, but it looks like another community icon will be rescued.  The IndieGoGo campaign to help keep Iconoclast Books afloat looks like it will indeed be a "go."  (Crossing my fingers and knocking on wood so as not to jinx the bookstore before it meets its $85,000 goal.)

(UPDATE, 6/3/2014: Iconoclast Books lives!  The campaign met--and exceeded--its goal 48 hours before the deadline.  The store could still use your support, so keep the contributions coming.)

I've supported the fundraiser both as a monetary contributor, as a person who has ordered books online from the store in $100 batches, and as a cheerleader/ pleader/persuader on social media, but I always wanted to do more.  The Bookstore of the Month provides a wonderful opportunity for me to try and do just a little more for the bookstore in Ketchum, Idaho (pop. 2,689).  This is not the first time I've featured Iconoclast as the Bookstore of the Month--you can go here to read more about the history of the store and the dynamic bookseller who glows at its heart, Sarah Hedrick.  At the time I wrote that blog post seven months ago, Iconoclast Books was still trying to recover from a summer of forest fires which devastated the economy of the town.  Sun Valley depends in large part on tourism and when book buyers coming into the store slowed to a trickle, things got pretty dire.  Little did I know the low summer sales were just the latest in a string of hard times for the independent bookstore.  I'll let Sarah explain the difficulties; here's what she writes on the IndieGoGo page:
Like all good tales, we've had our share of dragons, especially in the six years since the loss of my husband and business partner, Gary Hunt. We've suffered from the impact of the recession, the seizing of our locally owned bank, and the rise of online competition. Last summer we all experienced the most difficult summer we've had when the Beaver Creek fires caused the evacuation of our valley during the most profitable time of year. Additionally, the impact of Amazon and its egregious attempts to put bricks and mortar stores out of business, is possibly the biggest dragon to slay.
Sarah has been given a June 6 deadline to "get current on the rent or vacate the store."  She goes on to explain how the campaign's $85,000 will be used:
*  Approximately $55,000 to back rent and late fees.
*  $30,000 to local vendors, authors and publishers.
*  If we exceed this goal we will continue to pay down bills to publishers and outstanding loans.
*  Additional funds to pay down balances owed to publishers, outstanding loans and debts. Among these: The SBA disaster relief loan (2007 Castle Rock fires), back taxes, line of credit and revolving accounts. Approximately $250,000. We are in good standing with these debts, but they are preventing us from moving forward.

At the time of Gary's death I made the decision to accept Letters of Testamentary which made me solely responsible for his actions. Possibly an unwise decision, but one I made because I didn't want to lose him AND the bookstore. The burden of the store's debt was far greater than I imagined, yet all of these years later, with some of it paid off, I feel even more strongly about keeping up the fight. We've had wonderful support from our landlord, a record-breaking year in sales during the height of the recession, and I've been able to pay off many of our creditors while not incurring any new debt. Our community has been quite vocal this week about the importance of keeping our doors open. We've determined that Iconoclast Books is an undeniable asset to this community, but for continued growth and sustainability, we need to pay off the debt I inherited.
For this reason, and many others, I am happy to make Iconoclast Books the Bookstore of the Month for June at The Quivering Pen.  Whether the fundraising campaign succeeds or not (fingers still crossed), I'm proud to link all book titles mentioned in this month's blog posts to the Iconoclast website where, if you are so moved, you can purchase them.  To paraphrase an old saying, Put your money where your click is!

Is Iconoclast the only independent bookstore to be backed up against the hard wall of financial struggle?  Of course not.  Every day I open the Shelf Awareness email, I'm saddened to learn of yet another wonderful store forced to lock its doors forever.  Do I want to save those stores, too?  Of course I do.  But I can only eat the elephant one bite at a time.  Iconoclast today, another bookshop tomorrow.

That's why I started the Bookstore of the Month feature last year: to remind blog readers of the value--financially and spiritually--independent bookstores add to their communities.  In the nearly two years since I've been on the road promoting Fobbit, I've visited dozens of bookstores and I can honestly say that every time I open the front door and walk inside, there is a palpable bump inside my chest, my heart playing the xylophone of my ribs in a rapid, excited trill.  Nothing compares to standing in front of a pyramidal display of books selected by staff members, or browsing specialized sections thoughtfully curated by people who can see the intellectual webs strung between books, or reading "staff-pick shelf talkers" taped on the shelves throughout the store ("Jason recommends Moby Dick: 'A man, a whale, a masterpiece.  Call me Fanboy.'").  Being a regular patron of an independent bookstore is like going to your favorite hair salon: after a few visits, they'll know exactly what kind of scissors to use on your hair.  How many times have you walked into your hometown bookstore and the person at the counter says, "Hey, have you read [insert title here]?  I think you'll really like it."  A good bookseller is your friend, your priest, your doctor.

Nowhere is that more evident than at Iconoclast.  I've only visited once (and all too briefly at that), but I could immediately feel Sarah's passion and love for books when I walked in the front door (ba-dump-bump! goes the heart).  But don't just take my word for it; here are a few of Iconoclast's friends to lend their words of support:

"Iconoclast uniquely provides what chain booksellers and online outlets can’t: Sarah and her staff know their community and customers personally and hand curate a selection of books based on this familiarity.  Sarah and her staff don’t just offer books from the big publishing houses, and they certainly don’t get paid to tell you what to read.  At Iconoclast, it's not only books, but intellectual curiosity that is encouraged and flourishes with room for artists, authors, poets, musicians, and actors to share their talents in an intimate setting.  One of my friends was saying just the other day, "The idea of not having Iconoclast with its diverse collection of books, the café, author events, poetry slams, open mics, and plays is something I can’t even imagine."  I remember meeting someone in the store last year whom I hadn’t seen for years.  As we sat down for tea and decaf cappuccino, I burst out, 'This doesn’t happen on Amazon!'  People meet at a bookstore, and unexpected things happen—including, I’m told, some romances that began at Iconoclast."
Carole King

"When I go to Ketchum, as I often do to fly fish and other non book related things, my anchor, the heart of the town is Iconoclast Books.  This is true for my wife and daughter also.  From the first time we went to Ketchum, now many years ago, Iconoclast was for us its center.  The bookstore is the cultural core of the city, an essential place, more important than a concert hall or museum.  It is a place where writers and readers meet, not literally but metaphorically, the home of all the ideas and emotions that are held in books.  An independent book store is a personal thing.  It expresses the tastes of its owner and Sarah Hedrick has made it such an interesting place.  Though I live in Manhattan which is supposed to be the center of everything, it is in Ketchum, Idaho that I find books I had not known about, sometimes ideas I never before thought about.  What a sad place Ketchum would be without Iconoclast, wonderful Ketchum just another town in the mountains."
Mark Kurlansky

"I met Peter Matthiessen at Iconoclast Books.  I met Ryszard Kapuściński there.  I met Virginia Woolf there, too, and Marguerite Duras, and William Faulkner.  All these writers, and dozens more, were waiting for me, sometimes on the front shelves, sometimes deep in the warrens of used books, and I might never have encountered them if not for this amazing shop, in that gorgeous valley, drenched in sunlight, populated by people who care about literature.  You go into Iconoclast thinking you want a certain book; you leave with five.  Any of them can change your life."
Anthony Doerr

"If not for independent bookstores we would be at the mercy of corporate carton openers who are not invested in the books but in the profits from them.  To go into an independent bookstore and be able to ask for help or discuss books is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon.  To browse and touch and then talk about books and the ideas within them is a disappearing resource and treasure.  Iconoclast has been that for our community and I hope all will support them in staying put and continuing their wonderful literary advocacy, knowledge and conversation."
Jamie Lee Curtis

Iconoclast Books is the featured bookstore all this month at The Quivering Pen.  By clicking on the links to books mentioned in this month's blog posts, you'll be taken to the store's website where you can purchase the book (or, better yet, several books).  The Quivering Pen is dedicated to supporting independent bookstores.

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