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Brower: COVID accelerated Grand Lake bookstore closure

By Patrick Brower
Grand Enterprise Initiative
Patrick Brower, Grand Enterprise Initiative

Businesses come and go.

Yet the hassles, hazards and uncertainties associated with the COVID pandemic are prompting some businesses to finally decide to sell or close, probably at a rate higher than normal. I’m seeing that usually these are businesses that have a long history and were almost ready to close or, if possible, sell. COVID pushed them over the edge.

But I was particularly distressed when a client and good friend decided to close her bookstore in Grand Lake, partly as a result of COVID and partly because it was just time.

Avis Grey, who owned and operated Cascades of the Rockies book and gift store in Grand Lake since the early 1990s, decided to throw in the towel in early July. The store’s last day was July 12 when her daughter Tallie was working the store trying to sell the inventory that was left.

I had worked with Avis over the years in a variety of ways. First, she was a client and I worked with her as she struggled to make her store and the business community in Grand Lake more vibrant. She had many ideas for her store and the town and she was civically engaged.

I also just cherished the idea that her store was the only bookstore in Grand County. That she was able to make her bookstore last as long as she did in a place that can be hard on retail was a testament to her dedication and skills.

It’s particularly hard to be a bookstore in this day and age because of the digital revolution and the near monopolistic rise of Amazon, which has helped to make business extremely difficult for bookstores around the country.

“Bookstores have a very low margin,” she says. “So it’s a love of labor and you’re fighting Amazon all of the time.”

But I also enjoyed working with her because she offered a great place where I could sell my Killdozer book. She even let me host book signings at her store numerous times. And sales were good at her store. I can tell you that she loved the idea of helping to nurture local writers and talent.

And yet, how is it that COVID ended up being the deciding factor?

Back in March, when COVID awareness was getting started, a large group of students from Texas came into her store and hung out for a good hour. They were just killing time as school had been suspended. But it was only after they left that she realized how at-risk she had been. There were no masks and the kids just seemed indifferent to what was going on.

“Not many did it in such a careless way, but enough did for me to be very concerned,” she says.

Avis is no spring chicken, although she’s full of energy. Which means she’s at heightened risk. And many of her employees also had age and health concerns. She realized she just couldn’t afford to put their lives at risk either.

So she decided to try and sell the store. Some people were interested but in the final analysis no one could make it happen, so she got serious about liquidating. Potential buyers, she says, realized owning and operating a bookstore could be hard work.

“When you own a business in Grand County, you’re pretty dedicated to it,” she says. “You have to be. You put in at least 60 hours a week in the summer.”

In retrospect, Avis knows she was doing what she loved and having fun while she did it.

“Obviously, you have to have a love of books and you also have to be a people person to inspire the best of books and life to the consumers,” she says. “It was really redeeming because people of all ages would come in. Sometimes it would be the first stop when they came back in to the mountains … It was just a beginning way of having conversations about the world through the eyes of books.”

Sometimes, closing a business is just the right decision: “I think I did what I ultimately should have done,” Avis says.

Thanks Avis, you gave it a good shot. Grand County’s only bookstore will be missed.

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at patrickbrower@kapoks.org.


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