Flagstaff’s only independent book store devoted to new titles, Barefoot Cowgirl Books, now has new owners and a new name. Yet, its identity as a quaint place to peruse books and experience author readings and other community events remains. Tucked between Criollo Latin Kitchen and Puchteca Indian Goods on the east side of North San Francisco Street, the two-year-old business is now called Bright Side Bookshop and is operated by a trio of familiar Flagstaff business people.
Lisa Lamberson, who owns and operates Mountain Sports just a couple of doors down, is one of the new owners. She is joined by her husband and business partner, Ben Shaffer, and Annette Avery, who for years operated businesses out of her home. Together, the three envision a healthy future for Bright Side as they expand on the community bookstore persona begun by original owner Nancy Nelson.
Nelson hand-selected the titles and, with limited space to store stock, limited her inventory to one or a few copies of any given title. Coupled with her hands-on, personable approach to meeting the needs of customers, this made for a welcoming environment, a throwback to book shops of old.
Lamberson says that many of her friends questioned her logic in buying into such a project, thinking that small, independent bookstores were going extinct, not able to compete with big box bookstores and online book retailers. She and her colleagues have found, on the contrary, that these smaller shops are making a comeback. “Independent booksellers across the country are multiplying and I think the pendulum is swinging,” she says. “What was old is again new.”
Lamberson explains that while people enjoy, for instance, the convenience of online ordering, they miss the experience of personal interaction and one-on-one conversation with a bookseller, as well as the tactile experience of browsing and holding a book in their hands.
Avery points out that this personal relationship with books is felt by youth as well as adults. “The younger generation has hit a point where they are so taxed with electronics – they’re on the phone, on social media, on the computer at school. Browsing in a bookstore allows them to unplug from something they’re plugged into all day long.”
Brightside’s approximately 1,750 square feet of retail space is typical of many downtown businesses, with a creaking basketball wood floor, old fashioned bronze-colored tin ceiling and friendly staff. It differs in its contents, with book-stuffed shelves – complemented by book-themed gifts – lining the perimeter and interior area. “We obtained a very well curated, nice collection of books that we now intend to expand,” said Lamberson. “We envision offering broader kids, young adult, middle reader and local history sections.”
The new owners also plan to increase the number of activities the shop hosts, following current trends of event-driven bookstores. “The store includes books and gifts, but mostly it will be that community gathering place,” said Avery.
“You need to have a place to gather for a slide show or a writing workshop or a Ukrainian egg dying workshop or a story time – things that might align with books and then things that are just kind of wacky and not in alignment with books,” added Lamberson.
Nelson put the business up for sale in late 2016 in preparation for her move away from Flagstaff. “Right before Christmas, Lisa said, ‘Annette, the bookstore is for sale’ and I totally dismissed it,” said Avery. “Then, after Christmas, we went to lunch at Criollo next door and she said, ‘Annette the bookstore is still for sale.’ So, we stopped in after lunch and talked with Nancy and we both kept asking a lot of questions. I kept waiting for the door to close and the door never closed. Before we knew it, we bought a bookstore.”
Since then, the team has hired several new employees to complement the current staff, which includes high school student Jade Adreon, one of the first people Nelson hired when she first opened the store. Lamberson expects to eventually have six employees on the payroll, as well as an unexpected number of volunteers who have come forward in support of the enterprise. “In all my years of owning and operating a local business, I’ve never had anyone stop by to volunteer. But from day one we had people stopping by and saying ‘I just want to be part of this, you don’t need to pay me.’”
As for the new store name, Lamberson said, “I read it in an article somewhere when Ben and I were traveling together and I said, ‘What about Bright Side?’ We’re a little bit on the sunnier side of things. We’re optimists, we’re glass-half-full sort of people. The name seemed to fit and stuck.” FBN
By Kevin Schindler, FBN