At a time when are throwing in the towel, is celebrating a coming of age: the independent bookstore turns 20 this weekend.
To mark the milestone, owner Andy Weinberger is hosting a birthday party Saturday, 1 - 5 p.m. – complete with food, cake (from Scandia Bakery), a raffle contest (with book-filled totes as prizes) and a performance from Weinberger's Klezmer band. Celebrants will also receive 20 percent off all purchases.
Though the store carries a wide selection of books, in has made its mark as a 'literary gathering place' for the city.
Since opening day, the store's hosted over 1500 author lectures – roughly two per week – and started offering writing workshops and seminars, including Spanish, jewelry-making, knitting, and even the occasional yoga class.
“We are trying to be a gathering place for book lovers of all ages – but that is something that extends to information of all kinds," says Weinberger, 64, who co-owns the store with wife Lilla.
"We're just throwing it all out there, and we see what sticks."
The store began as a labor-of-love for the literary couple, who are both writers: Lilla has worked as a speech writer and research librarian at the Library of Congress, Andy has contributed book reviews to the Los Angeles Time and Los Angeles Herald.
The couple always dreamed over opening a bookstore-cum-literary-salon, but put their dreams on hold during a long stint on the East Coast.
That all changed during a vacation in Sonoma, when Lilla fell in love with the town and noticed that it was missing a real bookstore. (Bear Flag Books, a popular East Napa Street spot, had recently shut its doors.)
"The wheels started turning," said Weinberger. Within days the pair had quit their jobs working in mental health, sold their cars and put their Massachusetts house on the market.
“It was all kind of serendipitous and wonderful – we were ready for a change in our lives," Weinberger said.
The store opened the day after Thanksgiving, to a precarious start: A torrential thunderstorm tore the new sign off its post – Weinberg arrived to find it propped up against the front door – and ripped a skylight off the roof, allowing a view of "clear blue sky" from the register.
The Weinberg's took it in stride: “There was no where to go but up from here, because everything’s already falling apart.”
From humble beginnings the store's gone on to take a place in the cultural center of Sonoma. Customers regularly come in to explain how beloved Readers' Books is and ask a recommendation from Thea Reynolds, 48, who's worked at the store for 12-years.
“It’s been more than just a job, the people that you meet – it’s been incredible," Reynolds said.
But, the store's suffered as more readers switch to eBooks and Amazon; they've had to depend on in-store events and classes to drive sales, rather than foot-traffic.
Recently, Readers' has begun offering eBooks through Google reader, to cater to the tech savvy who want to support local business at the same time. (Though, they don't see much of the sale, Weinberger says: around $1.50 per $10 or $12 purchase.)
Sales have been good since , according to Weinberger, as customers developed a “renewed loyalty," towards keeping the remaining stores in business.
"We live in a good town: people here are always in favor of supporting your community instead of a corporation," he said.
Do you frequent Readers' Books? Share your favorite memory of the store's 20-years in the comments!