In the first week of July of 2018, our dream was to shut down temporarily and quickly remodel everything; of course, that takes a lot of money. It also means losing revenue. We did what we could in the first week of by means of community. Charlie was teaching at diploma recovery program – Access to Success, and Chelsia was a part of The Holter Museum’s Art for Survival classes for youth. Without our connections to young people, a new coat of paint wouldn’t have been possible. Turns out that a rotation of twenty-ish teenagers can paint approximately 2200 sq. ft. of walls in a week. That’s hard to do.
It also took community members, too. People in the Helena community who you may know that work in law, government affairs, advocacy, retail, healthcare, and education to help us organize books, throw out garbage, clean surfaces, move furniture around the store and to the dump, we even had a good friend cut the electrical cord to the bookcases and chop off the tops to let the ceiling light illuminate the book spines. That was a risk. We sat around while he climbed the ladder with the skill saw and said, “Are you sure?”
We couldn’t have done any of it without our community, and we couldn’t have grown and continue to operate the way we do without our foundational crew, our always adapting employees, and you. Your presence, your input, your love, your patience.
It seems like we get everything when we want it these days (except for those of you who patiently wait for special orders through the bookstore – thank you), so it doesn’t surprise me that Charlie and I wanted to have a whole new bookstore the day we opened. I can barely remember our opening day except for the lightness of the store because of the new wall colors and fewer fixtures. We didn’t have accounts established anywhere to bring in books and sidelines, we didn’t know our systems well AT ALL with the exception of the cash register (and that was questionable). That day was a like a wedding reception – so much celebration and I hardly remember a thing. It was a blur, a new beginning, a hope, a dream come true, and the beginning of a lot of work. One of the very first things I asked of my employees is to bear with us – the learning curve is steep in the industry and I am still learning every day how to sell books better. Booksellers from across the nation have assisted me, offered mentorship and collaboration, and – as Didi told me from the beginning – change will be a lot slower than you think and you’ll want.
Two and a half years later, some of those changes have come to fruition. We have Poetry and Essay sections, we built up our Classics, Charlie has built out their Sci-Fi/Speculative Fiction section recently, so we had to rearrange our Fiction section to make room. I did finally get my “Forest of Greeting Cards” that I wished for, even if I still don’t feel like there are enough. We will always have plans to upgrade, be more efficient and manage growth. Charlie and I are unsettled souls – we see opportunities and desire renewal often. There will always be ideas brimming – some of them will come to fruition and some will fall away. At one point I desired two levels for for the bookstore, recalling the love I have for other greats (Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, the old location of Elliot Bay in Seattle), but after crunching numbers it was clear I didn’t want to deal with that size of a store. Did you know that Montana Book Company once occupied not only up and downstairs at its current location, but where Sole Sisters now is, as well? I can’t even imagine. Overextending ourselves is not our aim – we have great space for expansion right where we are and the best neighbors on the Gulch.
We just recently closed for three days to make some more changes, to update fixtures and to make our children’s books more accessible to parents and young people. We gave our crew more room in the back to process shipments and special orders instead of having them out in the middle of the floor while people shop. To help with the new COVID-normal and necessary space needed while shopping and checking out, we have a mobile check out podium at the ready. We are adapting and constantly assessing the needs of our community including doing curbside pick-up, deliveries, and preparing for the holidays and any potential of closure.
There is a lot to think these days, but keeping people safe and adapting is at the forefront of our minds.
Come in and check out our changes. It was well worth the few days we were closed and it feels WAY more cozy in the back of the store.
And that’s my first post. Welcome to MT Book Co. Notes.