"I've taken over all the day-to-day operations as it is," said Mara Panich-Crouch, manager at Fact & Fiction Bookstore in downtown Missoula, Mont. But at the end of this month, Panich-Crouch will officially take over managing the store from retiring owner Barbara Theroux. "That's when the training wheels come off."
|Barbara Theroux and Mara Panich-Crouch
For the past two years, Panich-Crouch has been working side-by-side with Theroux, learning how to run the 31-year old independent bookstore. According to Panich-Crouch, the first six months of the transition consisted mostly of tailing Theroux and closely watching everything that she did. Gradually, the pair began splitting more responsibilities until Panich-Crouch was essentially running the store.
"For the last six months or so, she hasn't been checking my work--at least she hasn't said anything to me," Panich-Crouch remarked, laughing.
Panich-Crouch's first job in the book business was at the Bookstore at the University of Montana. Around 2005, she began as a general bookseller who also sold college gear and the occasional laptop before moving into the store's textbook division. After the Bookstore at U.M. purchased Fact & Fiction in 2007, she helped out at Fact & Fiction by filling in every now and then.
When asked what first drew her to bookselling, Panich-Crouch answered: "A love of stories and literature. And generally, I think everybody who goes to a bookstore regularly has at least a slight dream of working in one." She added that she is particularly fond of, and excited to sell, books by funny feminists like Samantha Irby, author of the essay collections We Are Never Meeting in Real Life and Meaty, and that she was currently "caught on the literary dystopian train with a lot of people."
Following a few years' absence from the bookselling world, Panich-Crouch returned to the business to be the Bookstore's textbook buyer, and over the next couple of years she worked part time in Fact & Fiction during the holidays and when the textbook division was slow. A little more than two years ago, she first heard of Theroux's plans for retirement, and rumblings that she was being considered as a possible successor.
"In the beginning, [the transition] was a very mysterious process to me," recalled Panich-Crouch. "Slowly everyone came together and Barbara was approached, saying 'I think this person will work.' We all talked about it. It was fairly organic, I think."
Panich-Crouch said that perhaps the biggest surprise during the transition process was learning just how demanding running a small bookstore is and exactly how much Theroux does. And she said that though it might not be the most exciting answer, one of the most fascinating things was learning all the logistics of the job--"how you keep track of everything you have to do and when you have to do it."
Panich-Crouch's first order of business is giving the store's decor a fresh look and feel. She also wants to broaden the store's selection, particularly where it comes to small press titles. "Being in a college town, a lot of the small press books sell to younger people," explained Panich-Crouch. "We want to keep our amazing, loyal customers, but also draw the younger set in."
On June 29, Fact & Fiction and the Bookstore will host a celebration for Theroux at a distillery in Missoula, and not long after that, the store will be Panich-Crouch's to run. "Basically, she is the heart and soul of this store," Panich-Crouch said about Theroux. "She put her lifeblood into it. She's put everything she's got into books and the bookselling world." When asked what she's taken away most from working with Theroux, Panich-Crouch answered: "To give your all and feel passion for what you're doing." --Alex Mutter