Word on the street is Andrea Avantaggio is a master matchmaker. Share your interests and passions with her, and she will have you falling in love by the end of the night – with a good book, that is.
Avantaggio owns Maria’s Bookshop with her husband, Peter Schertz. Over the last 20 years at the shop, she has helped thousands of readers find their match.
“Books feed peoples’ passions,” she said. “When people are talking about that passion, you can just see it. And you get to be a part of that thing that makes them spark.”
Whether a customer is looking for a fantasy novel or learning a new skill, Avantaggio knows she can find the perfect book. It is a challenge she enjoys and is one of her favorite parts about owning a bookstore.
“It’s sort of like going to a wine shop for a specific occasion, and those folks can find the right wine for that,” she said. “Books are sort of the same way. People want an escape, or they want to learn more information, or get their kids excited about reading. The best part is when they come back and say that book was perfect.”
Originally from Maine, Avantaggio’s mother moved to Durango when she left for college. After a summer working in Durango at Colorado Trails Ranch, she fell in love with the Colorado outdoors.
In 1989, she and Schertz settled in Durango. While working working as a waitress at Carver Brewing Co., Avantaggio heard about an opening at the bookshop and took on a second job under then-owner Dusty Teal.
After working for Teal for for six years, he offered Avantaggio and Schertz the opportunity to purchase Maria’s on the condition that they continue “serving characters of the Southwest.”
They dove in headfirst.
“It is a lot of having your finger on the pulse of the community,” Avantaggio said. “And Durango is a really fun community to sell books in that way, because there are so many pockets of interest.”
Avantaggio believes books can change lives. And although she does not often express her personal political interests, her job allows her to help her community make informed decisions.
“If you believe in the First Amendment and the right to information, then what we do is a slightly subversive thing because we can get any book for any person,” she said. “I’m not an outwardly political person, but I am an inwardly political person just by making that information available and by keeping a small, independent business going.”
A well-trained staff, at this time comprised of 19 employees, is how she and her husband balanced raising two children and owning a business that is open 12 hours a day, seven day a week.
“Peter and I took this long view of ‘how do we do this, stay sane and not wake up in 20 years and realize our kids are off to college and we haven’t seen them for 10 years?’” she said. “So from the very beginning, we decided that we were going to train our staff to be able to take care of things.”
Avantaggio and her team support the community through the bookshop. On top of organizing gatherings, she also hosts events and fundraisers with regional libraries, nonprofits and other businesses. “Our favorite thing to do is say ‘yes,’” she said. The couple has donated more than $10,000 in goods and services annually and have helped more than 60 groups, according to the store’s website.
“It lets me be in the middle of this wonderful community without putting myself out there,” Avantaggio said. “The bookshop is at the heart of the community in a lot of ways, and I just happen to be at the heart of the bookshop.”