While mega-bookstores like Barnes & Noble have struggled with the rise of internet sales, Durango patrons support seven bookstores.
The latest one, White Rabbit Books and Curiosities along the Animas River Trail, opened in 2014 near the Powerhouse Science Center a few years after Waldenbooks, the Borders Group outlet in Durango, closed. The owner, Keena Kimmel, has carved out a niche in fantasy and metaphysical books, although books from many genres can be found in the charming, 250-square-foot space, where bookshelves stretch up to the ceiling.
A note near the door reads: “If the store seems too small, perhaps it is only that you, yourself, need to be smaller for awhile.”
Philosophy aside, limited space means there is no room for filler books on the shelves, which helps keep the shop’s overhead costs lower, she said.
“Small is usually just enough. When you really stand back and look at it, and in a town like Durango, keeping the bookstore small made sense,” she said in an email.
The fantasy vibe of the store stretches out into the garden, where visitors play chess and leave their own stone cairns. The garden area is an important piece of the character and sense of community that Kimmel has created and that independent bookstores provide.
“I think people are more after the experience of a tangible bookstore as a gathering place,” she said.
Before Kimmel opened the store, she made her living as a photographer doing art shows full time and sold books on the side, but making the switch was still challenging.
“I was kind of scared to death,” she said.
In addition to the store, she works part-time at the Ignacio Public Library.
But trends have been in her favor recently, with retail book sales nationwide outpacing 2015 during the first six months of this year, according to the American Booksellers Association.
There has also been a resurgence in independent bookstores.
“We hear about communities that haven’t had an independent bookstore for 10 years getting one back,” said Peter Schertz, an owner of Maria’s Bookshop.
Even though Durango has no shortage of bookstores, with seven outlets counting the Friends of the Durango Public Library and the Fort Lewis College bookstore, there is still a spirit of collaboration, he said.
Maria’s staff made a listing of all the bookstores in town to help customers look for specific titles.
“We’re a very literate community with a wide-reading taste. ... There is plenty of book purchasing to go around for everybody,” said Andrea Avantaggio, an owner of Maria’s.
In addition to competition from the internet, Durango’s bookstores are also weathering the competition from e-readers, such as the Kindle, because people still enjoy the feel of a tangible book.
“People will say to me: ‘I have an e-reader, but I just really love the feel of a book in my hands,’” said Terry Hutchison, the owner of YESS, The Book Hutch.
While Maria’s has lost sales to electronic books, the increase in availability of literature ultimately expands the pool of readers in the community, and that is positive, Avantaggio said.
There is also a strong belief among retailers in town that bookstores have staying power.
“I think bookstores, whether they are new bookstores or used bookstores, will always have a space,” Hutchison said.