By Suzanne Cheavens
Telluride Bureau Reporter
TELLURIDE—(January 1, 2014) The floors creak and the ceiling of the 100-year-old building is high and clad in tin. There is just enough room to walk between the rows of shelves and the walls are lined with books stacked so high, a rolling ladder is needed to reach the top. Modern pendants of light wash the shop with warmth and customers move languorously about, holding books, reading a paragraph or two, in search of The Next Read. Even the pleasant aroma of coffee percolating from the café in the rear of the store cannot overrule That Smell – the smell of books.
Between the Covers Bookstore has been a fixture on Telluride’s main drag, Colorado Avenue, for several decades, thriving through economic downturns, the resort town’s brutally slow off-seasons and a relay of committed proprietors. The popular bookshop and gathering place is now helmed by a pair of decidedly non-bookish women, Daiva Chesonis and Bobbi Smith, rosy-cheeked outdoorswomen whose passion for exploring under Colorado’s blue skies is rivaled by their devotion to what can be discovered in the pages of a book.
The “Bookends” as Chesonis laughingly calls their partnership, purchased the venerable business from their former boss, Stuart Brown, who employed them as the store’s manager (Smith) and book buyer (Chesonis). When Brown knew he wanted to sell the business, the two put their heads together, took a deep breath and made an offer. The store became theirs on December 1, 2010. Now, three years later, Chesonis calls the decision both “exhausting and gratifying,” and one that both locals and visitors herald with their continuing support.
Buying the business and keeping the doors open for Telluride’s book-hungry clientele was a weighty financial commitment for both of them – Smith’s family was sure she had lost her mind – but with some time in the rear view mirror, the decision has proven sound.
“I thought it was an important thing for the community,” Smith said. “It made me feel like I was doing something good.”
The new owners wasted little time in fulfilling their vision of the modern bookstore since signing on the bottom line. They each had previously run their own businesses (Smith’s Bobbi’s Treats was a much loved, one-woman bakery and Chesonis’ graphic arts business was once one of only a few in Telluride) and as the store’s manager and buyer, the transition was natural. Smith and Chesonis set to work expanding the shop’s inventory, installing a state-of-the-art point of purchase and inventory computer system. They have completely revamped the store’s Website, and maintain an active presence on social media.
Despite the voracious appeal of the easy access to information, entertainment and education on the Internet, independent booksellers are surprisingly resilient. At one of the many conferences the two attend, Chesonis and Smith learned that in 2012, 42 new indie bookshops opened their doors. The downfall of mega-bookstores like Borders certainly helped make way for mom and pop operations to fill the void. But also driving indie booksellers’ viability is a community’s need for a place to find kindred spirits, to be assisted by knowledgeable people they likely know, to actually hold and smell a book. It’s an appeal that, for many, wins out over today’s touch screen sterility.
Their success seems almost counter-intuitive in an age where the habit of reading faces more competition than ever. Chesonis recalled the Reading is Fundamental commercials that once aired on television.
“Can you imagine? Commercials for general reading! Not selling anything other than the act of reading!”
Another factor in the durability of small, independent bookshops is the growing trend to shop local. Consumers – especially those in small towns like Telluride – understand that while the prices they pay may not be as low as what can be found online, money spent in a local retail shop has benefits that radiate throughout the community. Snow from a recent storm has already been cleared from Colorado Avenue and Chesonis gestured toward the street outside her front window.
“Every time someone spends money locally, a street gets plowed. There’s a connectedness in shopping local.”
Not only locals, but also a steady stream of visitors cross Between the Covers’ threshold every day. “People seek out bookstores,” Chesonis said. “They’re special places.”
There is an assumption – nearly always correct – that information about Telluride can be gleaned at the bookstore. Maps, local titles and postcards are hot items with the traveling curious. Road closures, weather reports, local news and information about local community events are routinely dispensed over the store’s front counter. According to Smith and Chesonis, locals regularly avail themselves of the store’s special order services, negating the need to visit an online mega-seller. Additionally, those with e-readers can update titles with ease at Between the Covers.
But what the owners both love best is the matchmaking that adept bookstore clerks engage in with their customers. Like literary detectives, booksellers learn what books or authors the customer enjoys and then lead them to a selection of titles that dovetail with the reader’s preferences. The practice is called hand selling, in which the perfect book is placed directly in a reader’s hands. Hand selling allows booksellers to know their clientele and their tastes and also creates a deeply personal relationship between reader and book purveyor. And that is a quality that is impossible to find with the click of a computer mouse.
Looking ahead, Smith and Chesonis are always brainstorming ways to sustain not only their little shop, but also the literary vitality of Telluride and the region. They envision enhanced collaborations with literary organizations for readings, competitions and author events. And, they will continue event-specific successes, such as May’s Reading Frenzy, which offers Mountainfilm Festival attendees off-site meet and greet opportunities where they can purchase books written by the festival’s featured guests, notables and filmmakers.
“We are bubbling with ideas,” Chesonis said.
Between the Covers is located at 224 West Colorado Avenue in Telluride. For more information, call 970-728-4504, or visit the Website at: www.between-the-covers.com.