Although Fact & Fiction Bookstore opened in Missoula, Mont., on March 1, 1986, owner Barbara Theroux has always celebrated the store's anniversary during the week of St. Patrick's Day. Last week, Fact & Fiction celebrated its 30th with a host of parties, sales and author events. Theroux, meanwhile, is in the process of training a successor to take over the store, and plans to retire in June 2017.
"I have been so blessed with good booksellers, authors and customers sharing the ups and downs of independent bookselling for 30 years," said Theroux. The mood in the store last week, she added, was fun, festive and thankful. "There were lots of memories shared with customers who have grown up in the store, authors who have read [here] and people who love what we do."
The birthday festivities began on the weekend of the 12th. The official in-store party was on the 15th and featured a special Fact & Fiction cocktail made from locally distilled gin, cake and live music from a Missoula duo. On the 17th, local author Gwen Florio read from her new novel Disgraced (Midnight Ink) and brought a keg of beer to toast the store and her book. Throughout the week, Fact & Fiction also ran its traditional Lucky Shamrock Sale. In past years, customers would draw a shamrock card from a bowl to find out their discount; this year, customers drew shamrock scratch cards. Also introduced this week was a Fact & Fiction pint glass, with the store's logo on one side and a quote from author Norman Maclean--"The world is full of bastards, the number increasingly rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana"--on the other.
Theroux has been preparing for retirement for nearly a year. After returning from BookExpo America 2015, she recalled, she effectively gave her two-year notice. In that time, she's been training Mara Panich-Crouch, currently a bookseller at Fact & Fiction and coursepack coordinator and book buyer at the Bookstore at the University of Montana, to be her successor. Theroux attended Winter Institute 11 in Denver, Colo., this January with Panich-Crouch to introduce her to people in the book world.
"I felt I needed to do that, because when I started [in bookselling] I was hired in November to work in a store with a huge holiday market," said Theroux, recalling her own entry into bookselling in 1971. Not only was she not prepared for the holiday rush, but no one at the store had done any buying for the holiday, and there was no one there to help her. But the bright side, Theroux said, was that she had "nowhere to go but up." It wasn't until she attended the American Booksellers Association show the following year that she realized there was a larger bookselling world out there. Today, though, she couldn't imagine dropping somebody right into the deep end like that.
|Mara Panich-Crouch (l.) and Barbara Theroux celebrating Fact & Fiction's 30th anniversary.
"I think it's important for people in bookselling to start a network, to know that you're not out there on your own," she said.
Over the course of her career, Theroux has seen a great deal of change within the book industry. She was a member of the ABA board for eight years, at a time when the association sued several major publishers on antitrust grounds and sold its annual trade show to Reed Exhibitions. Over the years, she said, some of the same issues have continued to pop up, among them publisher mergers and problems with book distribution. More recently, her store has weathered the arrival of e-books and the proliferation of online retailers. Said Theroux: "I think we've proven that we've survived."
Among the highlights of her career, Theroux pointed to her relationship with writers and authors in Montana as well as working with the Montana Book Festival and the Montana Book Award. When she opened Fact & Fiction, Theroux recalled, there was a group of Montana authors who were already well established and successful. Many of them have since passed away, she said, but it's been a particular joy to see new writers finding success of their own.
The Harry Potter phenomenon was also a highlight, Theroux said. Hosting midnight book launch parties and seeing children and teens excited to read books longer than 500 pages, Theroux recalled, was a pretty extraordinary thing.
After retirement, Theroux will probably go on a long trip immediately, but in the long term won't leave Missoula for good, she said. She hopes to volunteer at various places, including the Montana Book Festival and the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. She also plans on keeping ties with the store she opened.
"I think it's important to step away and allow others to move in," said Theroux. "But I'll have to come in and look through all the galleys." --Alex Mutter