Local bookstores a major attraction | TheUnion.com

Local bookstores a major attraction

There are very few communities anywhere that have as high a ratio of book stores per capita. Nevada City (population 3,041) with 5 open shops (1 for every 608 residents) and Grass Valley (population 11,986) with 8 open shops (1 for every 1,498 residents). Toss in one more in Penn Valley & another at the Nevada County Airpark and you have a total of 15 book stores to serve your needs. Taking in all of western Nevada Counties population (80,000) that’s one book shop for every 5,333 residents.

To put this into perspective, the following neighboring major cities would need these figures to equal us: Reno would need1561 shops, while Sacramento would have to have 3930, and San Francisco would need to have 6438 bookstores!

Nevada City & Grass Valley, along with the surrounding area, were designated as the Gold Cities Book Town back in 1997. With one of our shops, Brigadoon Books, having a specialty of Scotland & the British Isles, and all our ties & trips to the U.K., for years we had listened to customers say, “I suppose you have visited Hay-on-Wye?” and us always having to admit that we had not. We planned that our next trip to the U.K. would include Hay as the main objective. We both fell in love with the town & the book town concept, and upon our return home we determined to make our two towns the west coasts first book town.

Book towns are an international phenomenon with around two dozen now in operation around the world. Legendary bookseller Richard Booth is the father of this modern day concept, which offers more in the way of traditional book selling. The book town movement has its roots in Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh-English border. In 1961 when Richard started, Hay did not have any book stores and today there are almost 40. With over 1.2 million books and 500,000 visitors annually, this town with a population of 1300 is the prototype for those that followed.

The basic concept is to have a high proportion of book sellers & books in a small town, making it easier for book lovers to make the rounds. Another requisite is to have a large population nearby to draw from. One of the advantages of our area is that we are blessed with a highly literary community that cherishes the written word. This is best exemplified by the fact that it has been one of a very few to voluntarily pass tax measures in support of our libraries. Here in North America, there are currently 5 book towns. Along with the Gold Cities Book Town they are: Stillwater, Minnesota; Archer City, Texas; Sidney, British Columbia and the newest one just under way in Brownville, Nebraska.

After much work, we succeeded in getting Richard and his wife Hope to make a special trip here in 1997 to dedicate the project. We put on a banquet in their honor and the Booth’s were piped in by a pair of pipers from the Gold Country Celtic Society. The attending booksellers and other honored guests from the community enjoyed a very entertaining evening. Harold Berliner was the guest speaker, and he stated that this project would be a very good thing for our community, and one that would have a positive impact. I was the Master of Ceremonies and after introducing Richard, I sat back to enjoy his very entertaining dedication speech. Here are a few of his quips which he shared with us:

“More books have been published in the last 30 years than in the previous 500 years” followed by “99% of the books published world wide are now out of print” and the one that brought the most laughs from the assembled crowd, “95% of all books produced since the invention of printing by Gutenberg were printed after 1960 . . . And 90% of those should have remained trees.”

My wife, Clarinda and I have also visited Archer City, Texas to meet with, Pulitzer Prize winning author and bookman, Larry McMurtry and to Sidney, British Columbia to confir with Clive and Christine Tanner regarding their prospective book towns. Along with colleagues from other book towns and within the trade, we have also personally hosted other visiting parties with an interest in the local book community. These include journalists and authors, from both the United States and abroad, who have written articles and books about the Gold Cities Book Town.

Some of the things that were a direct response to Richard Booth’s visit and the designation of a Book Town include: Booktown Books, A Co-operative Bookstore, it was set up to provide a place for established and budding book sellers to have booth space in order to have exposure of their books for the general public; The Original Cannibal Bookshop, Richard was intrigued by the history of the Donner Party and thought a shop focusing on the subject of cannibalism would be of international interest, so we formed a partnership with my lifelong friend & colleague Stu Potts and started that venture; And the Gold Rush Book Fair was started in 2001 by a partnership of John and Susie Hardy of Hardy Books and ourselves. After the launch of this very successful venture, and in order to devote more time to our other book related businesses and projects, we sold our half interest to the Hardy’s. John and Susie have continued to make this event bigger & better with every passing year, and it is one of the best book fairs in the west, attracting exhibiting booksellers of note from several states. It brings a lot of people to our two towns and is the showcase for the local book trade.

This year’s Gold Rush Book Fair will be held in the Main Street Center Building at the Nevada County Fair Grounds on Saturday, May 20th between the hours of 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

The Gold Cities Book Town reached its zenith in 1991 with 23 open shops, 11 in Nevada City, 10 in Grass Valley, and one each in Penn Valley and North San Juan. Today, after some booksellers deciding to close their open shops and sell on-line or to join the co-operative, we have leveled off at 15.

Both towns are anchored by first class, full service, full line independent book stores, dealing in new books and open daily, Harmony Books in Nevada City and The Book Seller in Grass Valley. Toad Hall Book Shop/Brigadoon Books/Original Cannibal Bookshop, three shops in one, is Nevada City’s largest used and out of print book shop and is open daily, the other book shops in descending order of days open are: Main Street Antiques and Books; Mountain House Books; and Inner Sanctum. The Co-operative book store, Booktown Books and Tomes, 16 booksellers that each have their own space and specialties, is open daily in Grass Valley, the other used and out of print book shops in descending order of days open are Carol’s Recycled Paperbacks; Tomes Books & More at Sierra Mountain Coffee; Ames Bookstore (along with being the areas largest book store, it is one of the biggest on the West Coast); and Remnant Books & Video. There are also two other book stores dealing in new books, Four Seasons Card & Book and Wayside Christian Book Store. To round it all out, there is Grammy’s Books & Gifts in Penn Valley, and Bud Plant Comic Art up at the Nevada County Airpark. And if that isn’t enough, The Friends of the Library put on a library sale on the first Saturday of every month.

I have always felt that the most important part of the Gold Cities Book Town is the literary community, along with the annual Gold Rush Book Fair, there is Literature Alive and their annual Wordslingers Festival, they also put on Listening To The Wild, in collaboration with the South Yuba River Citizen’s League. There are on going programs featuring authors & poets put on at the Center For The Arts, Miners Foundry Cultural Center, and the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center, as well as through the Nevada County Library. Contact any one of these, or check out what’s going on in the Prospector. Our area also features the Sierra Writers, a literary radio program on KVMR called BookTown, and a whole host of book clubs & reading groups. Is it any wonder we have so many authors, poets and others with a taste for literature living here!

Gary J. Stollery, along with his wife Clarinda, is the owner of Brigadoon Books, Toad Hall Book Shop, Stollery’s Books, and Gold Cities Book Town Promotions. They are also co-owners of the Original Cannibal Bookshop, all located in Nevada City & Grass Valley, California. Contact brigadoon@telis.org or 530-265-2216 or 530-265-3450.

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