This is a multi-part series describing Caro and Susan’s adventure in opening a bookshop.
It took us weeks to figure out a name we liked for the store. We finally settled on Back Stairs Books. It both explained where the place was and gave the barest hint of the former purpose of those rooms. Also, since the entrance would be near the back of the building near the alley, we were going to need extra signage and work to get folks back to our door. The location was great but the exact location on the location was not as good as it could be.
The building is long and narrow, and goes the full length from the street to the alley. At some point, the windows on the top level were bricked over, which meant no exterior light comes in upstairs. The building was put together from two different buildings, I think, as one side is one story high and the other is two.
In the middle of the block, to the north of the arts center, is an empty space where the Pioneer Theater once was. It burned about 50 years ago and the space is currently being used as a parking lot. The odd thing about it is the back wall is still standing, and one could technically drive out to the alley through what was probably once a garage door. The sign above the opening says “do not enter,” from the ally side, though. I figure if you missed and hit the edge driving out, the whole wall would fall on you, so the sign comes under the heading of ‘good advice.’
Downtown is about six or seven blocks long, with three blocks south of the railroad tracks and four north. There are also some businesses on streets running east and west of the Main Street, which is also Highway 50. The town has a hefty chunk of western history attached to it, being on the Santa Fe Trail. Tom Mix tended bar in a place just north of the tracks, and Bat Masterson worked here for a few months, too. The art center is smack dab in the middle of the “best” block, on the east side. It is next door to the business with the most foot traffic downtown, the donut shop. Parking is usually available, especially if you don‘t mind parking in front of the bar. Or you can park on the street and dodge the semi-trucks, which roar by so close you worry they’ll take your car door off.
The local community college started an entrepreneur program just about the time our friend T. sold us on the idea of having a bookstore at the art center. So we signed up for the free workshops. If you signed up for the associated classes also, they had a mentor walk you though all the steps to setting up a business. So much of it did not apply to us that we decided not to go the class route. Still, the workshops were an overview of the challenges that face someone going into business. Our fellow students were amazingly diverse: all ages, all backgrounds, all with a dream. There was a young man starting a repro business, and some folks wanting to sell their salsa (the free samples were great!).
The program was great for the basics, and speakers included insurance agents and lawyers, former and current business owners, a CPA and some folks who have a grant to promote the entire southeastern part of the state. The theory is, if you can’t attract a big business to your area, then starting a lot of little ones is almost as good. I have to say, though, that not all our questions were answered, and we spent a lot of time at the state website and some business websites. We were, and still are, having difficulty figuring out some arcane details, and we are trying to figure out Bling. Anybody use Bling and have an opinion to share? Apparently it is a doohickey on a cell phone. You touch your phone to the device in the store to make it work, it takes the required money out of your account electronically, and the receipt is emailed to you. Isn’t modern technology wonderful?
I did say the learning curve was a bit steep for those of us who remember rotary phones and phone numbers which started with two letters?