Telluride Choral Society carolers delivered a special Noel Night message to Daiva Chesonis, whose birthday it was, and Bobbi T. Smith, who, with Chesonis, closed the deal on their joint purchase of Between the Covers Bookstore that very day, Dec. 1.
Fellow Between the Covers employee Hilary Douglass was equally elated, having closed on the coffee shop portion of the bookstore the day before.
After going back and forth between the East Coast and Telluride for the past school year, longtime bookstore owners Stuart and Joanna Brown decided it was finally time to sell Between the Covers and move to Boston to focus on their four kids, who attend nearby schools. Opened by Telluride resident Edi Katz in 1974, the beloved independent bookstore and espresso bar has been a main street fixture ever since. The Browns purchased the business and real estate from Katz in 1998. Now, thanks to a ten-year lease of the building and transfer of ownership of inventory, furniture and fixtures to Chesonis and Smith, Between the Covers remains in local hands.
“We bought our jobs, and at the same time theirs,” says Smith, visibly beaming with excitement.
Smith, who for 12 years baked pastries for various Telluride businesses including Between the Covers, has been a bookseller at the store for the last four years, eventually taking over as store manager. Chesonis became the store's book buyer in 2008, after transitioning out of a job with the Telluride Mountainfilm festival and prior work as a graphic designer. The two began whispering to each other about buying the store last spring, when the Browns first announced they were putting it on the market, but they could not afford the asking price. By fall, after some clever negotiating with the Browns, they revisited the idea and put in an offer. The deal closed seven weeks later, on Noel Night.
“I think we worked 25 hours a day for about seven weeks,” quips Smith. “But it all came together.”
Chesonis is quick to emphasize that it is Telluride's loyal reading community that has kept its independent bookstore so successful, and she and Smith plan to carry the Brown's torch with very few changes.
“Independent bookselling is kind of an art,” she says. “We're just looking to be small, fat and happy.”
Most of the changes at Between the Covers will be internal and hardly noticeable by the customer, but one goal they will focus on is the store's website, making it interactive with online ordering, non-book merchandise sales, staff picks, and special events announcements. Hopefully by spring customers who own an e-reader (excluding Kindle) will be able to download books from the Between the Covers website thanks to Google eBooks, which, according to Chesonis, “has leveled the playing field for independent bookstores. Now you'll be able to download a book at 2 a.m. in your underwear,” and support your local bookstore while you're at it, because they’ll get a cut.
Chesonis is excited to begin posting the American Booksellers Association's Indie Bestseller List to their website, which is based on independent booksellers' sales. “The list is customer driven. It allows lesser known books to emerge,” titles that are not necessary on the New York Times Best Seller List.
The new owners also hope to increase their collaborations within the Telluride community, such as their meet-the-authors events with the Wilkinson Public Library, and setting up on-site book sales tables at festivals, such as Mushroom Festival, Mountainfilm and Telluride Film Festival. “You'll be seeing us off site a lot,” promises Chesonis.
But overall, their focus will continue to be on selling real books to real people. “Telluride has such a loyal reading community. Even if they have electronic [reading] devices, they come here and buy a book.”
They'll also happily maintain their role as a visitor's center of sorts, providing a public bathroom, directions, restaurant advice, and the day's edition of The New York Times.
Perhaps the most obvious change at Between the Covers will be in the coffee shop, which was sold separately to Douglass and her husband Jon Hubbard, and is slated to be renamed High Alpine Coffee Bar.
“It kind of made the whole equation work,” says Smith, of separating the two businesses.
Douglass will continue working part time for Smith and Chesonis as their sidelines buyer in charge of “anything that's not a book,” according to Chesonis.
Douglass has 12 years prior years in the coffee business. When she was hired by the Browns six-and-a-half years ago, it was to run Between the Covers’ espresso bar.
“I think it's going to be good,” Douglass says of her new business venture, noting that she and her husband have big ideas for the 299-square-foot space at the back of the bookstore. “We're changing it up, hoping to attract more people by getting different food in there. “We want people to be able to grab a burrito on their way up the mountain, and some real food when they come down from skiing.”
They hope to feature different chefs’ food on specific days, such as Barclay Daranyi's granola and baked goods on Tuesdays and JB and ME's quiches, raw bars and pastries on Thursdays.
The most significant change is the coffee they're serving, which now comes from Desert Sun out of Durango. “Their espresso is very different,” she says. “It's an Italian roast, very smooth with honey and berry tones. The regular drip coffee is seasonal; they rotate with the seasons,” so their winter blend might be from Peru and their summer blend from Mexico or Asia. “It's still a small Colorado company, which I like. They roast on Mondays and I get it on Tuesdays.”
The $1 per cup of coffee price remains intact, and Baby Elbe, Douglass and Hubbard's one-year-old daughter, can still be found crawling around on the floor. “She's the bookstore baby,” laughs Douglass.
All three Between the Covers' new owners hope to have a changing hands party soon. “We plan to get through Christmas Eve and then celebrate,” says Chesonis.
In the meantime, they hope to begin their long-term goal of becoming the community's “third place.”
“Everyone has three 'places' – their home, their work, and some other place” they regularly hang out. “We strive to be your third place.”
Between the Covers is located at 224 W. Colorado Ave.