What is a bookshop? Is it just another store? Is it a place holding hundreds of worlds and stories just waiting to be discovered? Is it a treasure trove of knowledge? It could be just one or all of these? Perhaps but for the Jackson, Wyoming community, the Valley Bookstore is so much more. It is a community stronghold, literary center and beloved treasure, hidden down an ally of one of Jackson Hole’s main thoroughfares.
Steve and Anne Ashley decided 45 years ago to set up their bookstore in Jackson Hole. He had always loved books, and with an Ivy League education and his passion for books to fuel him, he decided to take try his hand at being a bookseller.
The store has faced several struggles over the years. When the “Big Box” stores first emerged, such as Barnes and Nobles, Borders and Books-A-Million, local book stores felt the strain. The Valley Bookstore had to downsize to keep their doors open. But that didn’t deter the faithful owners and workers. Then another blow and a second downsize came when the mass media of e-books and digital media came into the market.
Bookstores weren’t the only ones to feel the strain of the online media revolution. Jackson Hole lost its music store in the treacherous waves that plagued the bookstores, music stores and movie industries. So while these others store broke down under the strain, how has the Valley Bookstore kept its doors open?
To sum it up in a word? Community.
The Valley Bookstore has come to stand for and mean more to the locals than just being a stop to pick up a new book. The workers there have been on the staff at least ten years. They all are there for their love of books. The workers are all passionate, friendly, and excited to help customers. No one is getting rich off these independent books stores. Most workers make at best $8 an hour. For them, it’s “a labor of love” Said Karilyn Brodell, who has worked at the store for about 25 years.
The store itself shows the love and passion the workers and locals have for books. The store is lovingly organized with handwritten signs, decorated with pictures of local authors, and when someone walks in they’re greeted with a happy smile. This pleasant greeting is then followed by an offer of help to find what you’re looking for.
The store matches the rest of the city. The walls are made of wood, all the decorations are wood, and for decoration there are deer sheds. The store blends in and becomes one with the rest of the shops of the town. It really is about being a part of the community, and the store shares it. In the kids’ corner, there is even a reading nook carved into a tree truck. The woods and nature that are a core of this community are not lost inside its beloved bookstore.
But the best part is the checkout. As you being rung up, the workers strike a pleasant conversation about the customer’s life. The locals in the store can stay for hours just chatting with the booksellers about what happened since their last visit, about the book they just picked up and another you may want to pick up when you’ve finished your new treasure.
And the store is full of treasures. They sell all kind of books, new books and even a shelf of hard-to-find books. At the front, they have books about the local area and guide books. Just behind that, they have two shelves full of books by local authors. The rest of the store is full of just what you’d expect, books you’d like find in any other bookshop, but with limited stock, they strive to provide only the best books.
Steve Ashley has a superb knowledge of his business. Brodell credits the success of the store to his understanding of the needs of the locals. Though the tourist trade is key to the survival of the store, the real magic is in the work Mr. Ashley has done with the local area. Brodell said the store was far more than a store, but more of a “Institution” for literature in the area. The locals know it and respect its influence on the area. Gene Lewis, executive director of the local children’s museum, said it was a great store and the Ashleys great community supporters.
Mr. Ashley has a talent for digging out the golden quality books. The store is well known for having books up a higher quality than you’d find at the truck stores or local grocery stores. Visitors and locals alike know to come into the store to find a quality book to enjoy over their vacations.
Though all these factors are key, the biggest factor may be their community outreach. Every Sunday night, Mr. Ashley can be found selling books at the local arts center. The store holds many community events outside the store. He strives to be an integral part of the community. “A lot of it boils down to building a legacy, to building a reputation.” Brodell said. “It’s one of the iconic businesses of Jackson Hole, a place that the community can come to.” It’s a center for literature in the area.
Because they are open seven days a week, they are a helpful spot for locals. “We’ll go the extra yard, mile, for anyone to do anything,” Brodell says with a smile. If a customer needs a package picked up, one of the workers will go and pick it up for them and hold it for them until the customer comes in to pick up his or her new book order.
It’s a unique community center to ask about things that may not even be book-related. They are the helpful place to have your questions answered about the area: whether about books, finding a good place to eat or learning the history of the area. There is a powerful relationship between the store and the local customers.
It isn’t just the workers who think so. Three middle school/high school aged girls came into the store fluttering with excitement. They are frequent visitors of the store and love their little patch of heaven. As they peruse the shelves, they chat about each book they’ve already read, or would love to read if they could buy more than one that day. They talk fondly of how that bookstore helped create their love of reading.
How? As the local community center for literature, Valley Bookstore adds on to the local book fair at the schools. Because of these events, these three girls have found a love of reading, of the store and of the stories they find hidden in the pages of the books. Their excitement and love for the work shines in their happy voices, big smiles, then sudden silence as they begin reading back covers and ‘about the author’ sections to find their next treasure of the week.
“We’re good at what we do,” Brodell says. They want to share their love of books with the locals and the tourists, and both would agree they do a marvelous job. There are few places that have such a love embedded into the walls.
Mr. Ashley emphasizes this greatly. His goal is to go the extra mile to support the local love of books, reading and learning. ‘Try not to say no to anything,’ Brodell says he tells them over and over again. He’s all about customer service.
As well as community outreach for readers, Mr. Ashley works hard to have outreach with local authors too. Brodell says they strive to have at least one copy of all the local author’s work. Even if it’s on an obscure subject. It’s all about having that community support in the area, for readers, for writers and for those who haven’t yet discovered the magic of books.
They even have a shelf of just the Jackson Hole authors that you can select from. They hold a writer’s conference here most every June/July season. Valley Bookstore sets up huge tables of the books for the local authors to sell to those who come to the conference to find new books, connect with other authors or learn about the literature of the area.
Though bookstores are becoming rarer by the day, Valley Bookstore shows no signs of leaving anytime soon. What is the Valley Bookstore? It’s a community center, supporting the communities’ love of books.