Earlier this month, 26-year-old independent bookstore A Book for All Seasons moved from its home of 19 years to a new storefront just down the street in Leavenworth, Wash. The new location is smaller than the old, with about 1,300 square feet of retail space as opposed to 1,500, and is no longer attached to an upstairs inn. Owner Pat Rutledge explained that the space is in a new building and that Stephen and Donica Sharpe, her son and daughter-in-law who will eventually take over the store, had a hand in designing the new store. "They have the store that they will take over," said Rutledge. "It's been a two-and-a-half-year process."
Stephen Sharpe reported that the new store is much more open and airy than the old location, which had lots of nooks and crannies and "twists and turns." The new space has lower shelves, and display tables in the middle of the store; the taller shelves are along the walls. And even though there is less actual selling space, Sharpe added, customers keep coming in and asking if the new store is bigger. "So far the response has been amazing," Sharpe said. "It's not an expansion, but it sort of feels that way."
Leavenworth is a big tourist destination, Sharpe said, and many people who visit the shop may only ever stop there once, but he and his wife wanted to make sure that the store gave the best first impression possible. Sharpe noted that they decided to leave much of the ceiling and the new vent work exposed, not only because it gave the place a bit of a "cool, industrial" look, but also because of how it expensive it would have been to conceal it all. It was also important to them to not deviate too much from the look and feel of the previous store, even while making it more open. "We wanted to keep the continuity of the old store," he said. "We didn't want it to be totally different, but different enough where people would come in and say, 'wow.' "
Rutledge and the Sharpes were able to complete the move in just one day, with the help of friends, family, community members and long-time customers. On July 15, the last day of business at the old location, Rutledge closed the store a few hours early and remained closed the next day as some 30 people stopped by to lend a hand. With their help, the store was open for business in the new location on July 17. The move was not far--only about 50 yards or so down the street--and Sharpe described giving dollies to customers and friends and loading them up with boxes. "You always hear about community, but to see it in such a specific, tangible way is a really cool thing," Sharpe said.
A Book for All Seasons pulled off a similar move in 1999, when it moved into the space that it just left on July 15. The move in '99 came about rather suddenly, after Rutledge and her husband learned that their landlord had sold their building and they had 30 days to get out. They found a new building with an amenable owner who had space for them--provided that they take over an adjacent kitchen and an upstairs inn, along with the storefront they wanted. They decided to do it, and to move across the street they enlisted the help of some 250 local students. "The community came together and moved us in one day," Rutledge recalled. "Incredible community support."
After Rutledge and her husband got their footing in that space, they turned the kitchen into a cafe and gave each of the rooms at the inn a different author theme. While the cafe lasted only about a year before a Starbucks moved into that space, the inn was a huge success, and Rutledge said that at different times over the years, the inn kept the bookstore afloat.
But when it came to thinking about a succession plan, Rutledge couldn't envision handing over the inn along with the bookstore. Despite how proud she was of it, the inn was also "dramatically draining" and took a lot out of the staff. It also didn't help that the building and its plumbing were very old and there were frequent maintenance problems.
But now, Rutledge continued, they have a new space in a new building, and her son and daughter-in-law will likely take over the business around the end of the year. She added: "It feels kind of like a fairy tale." --Alex Mutter