April 2015: How Can This Be?

Dear Reader,

We have a picture in the store of Kevin and I standing at the front door on the day we opened, April 19th, 1990. Looking at this 41-year old couple, eight months pregnant--I am reminded of our innocence, our enthusiasm and our recklessness!

As might have been expected of an accountant with a CPA and 20 years of financial experience, I of course had a business plan filled with 5-year projections and strategies and tactics. But nothing in the plan, nothing in the thick notebook I had kept for two years building up to that day, could have predicted what would happen over the next 25 years.

Yes, I had a set of fantasies--a place where words and conversation would matter and yes, I envisioned authors gracing our doors, we would be a handsome building filled with wonderful books, a sanctuary...you get it.  Still, none of those words capture the whole of it--the essence, or the way in which the store has touched countless hearts.

There, of course, has been the daily grind, like a train that never stops. We are open 7 days a week almost 12 hours a day. There is the worry of competitors, the worry of readers not reading--the worry of being the wrong kind of leader. Yes, all of it is there like a dull ache--an always-in-the-back-of-your-mind distraction.

Then there is the pure unmitigated joy of being a bookseller! What moments...Judy Collins singing Hallelujah without a microphone to an enraptured audience in the store, an 11-hour signing with Don Imus, having pizza and red wine with Winston Churchill's daughter, Lady Mary Soames, 1500 children and their families at midnight in the backyard of the store awaiting the release of the second Harry Potter book, Alan Ginsburg lasciviously asking a fan to take off his shirt if he wanted it signed, hundreds of kids proudly accepting their Summer Reading Olympic medal, Frank McCourt doing his very first reading upstairs, Alice Sebold bringing an audience of over 300 to tears as she talked about giving a voice to those who have suffered sexual abuse...there are hundreds and hundreds of other moments, too, with debut authors, stars, politicians, chefs and countless others. 

And then, of course, there are the extraordinary stories we have heard from our readers. I could write an entire book about stories both poignant, hilarious and touching. Yes, we  sell "stories." But the stories we hear from our readers are every bit as compelling, creating a wonderful circle.   

Of course, all of this has been aided and abetted by the hundreds of staff people who have worked at R.J. Julia, many who started out as customers themselves.  Some worked with us for a week (they thought the job was to read!), and some for over 20 years that are the anchor, the soul of what makes the store work.

All this matters and contributes to our existence. But there is something more ethereal, more undefinable than these facts. It occurred to me last night that the question we ask customers--"Are you finding what you need?"--might actually hold the key to defining the whole of it.

Our hope has been that we, in fact, do fill needs, conscious and unconscious--a need to find the book that answers life's large existential questions and the book that answers the small practical questions we need answered to get through the day, as well as a need to be distracted or entertained.

And so here we are, 25 years later. Maybe what has girded our survival in the midst of extraordinary change in reading habits is that a bookstore stands as a testament to creativity, to promise and to timelessness--it is the antidote to all that feels fleeting, unimportant and flimsy. We enter a bookstore and there is an undeniable quality of celebration of all that is and can be possible--these are fundamental, almost spiritual needs we all have.

This Sunday, Kevin and I will again stand at the front door of R.J. Julia to celebrate our anniversary with all of you--25 years to the day and hour that we first opened our doors. We will stand there as 66-year olds still enthusiastic, a little less reckless and a little less innocent, but filled with the kind of gratitude I don't think we could have imagined back then.

With heartfelt thanks to our staff, our community, authors and publishers and most importantly you, our readers, for making R.J. Julia remain vibrant, holding in its bones the potential to entertain, enthrall and comfort.

 

See you in the store,

 


Roxanne J. Coady
 

P.S.  We will be having the first of our anniversary celebrations this Sunday, April 19, all day. There will be champagne, sparkling cider for the kids, a special cake-cutting ceremony at 1pm, giveaways and more.   

As a special "thank you," we are offering 25% off everything in the store--books and gifts!--for Booklover Club members. We hope you'll join the party!