Time is tricky. There is a smudge through the details of last week, yet the details of April 19th, 1990 are vivid. Early in the afternoon, after last minute shelving and tidying, we removed the brown paper from all the windows, unlocked the doors, and began day one of RJ Julia Booksellers. The five of us that made up the entirety of the staff were ready.
As I recall standing at the door with Kevin, (here is a picture of us — me in my old-fashioned tent-like maternity dress!), wondering if anyone would come in, my goal was clear: having a beautiful space brimming with books, beckoning readers to discover a novel that would enlighten and entertain, and to meet the author that would inspire, all while creating a place where the wonder and beauty of words and conversation would envelope readers and bring them joy.
It didn’t occur to me that 28 years later we would have welcomed thousands of authors — debut writers that became award-winning, even Pulitzer Prize winners, Presidents, Secretaries of State, legendary poets, writers, athletes, movie and music stars, historians, scientists, and extraordinary people of commitment and accomplishment.
Or, that we would place about five million of what was, ideally, just the right book in the hands of our readers. And, we are honored by the opportunity to have donated almost $1.5 million to schools and cultural and literacy organizations in our community.
I certainly hadn’t imagined the possibility that we would witness two year olds from story time in the 1990s bringing their 2 year olds to story time today, that we would watch new moms and dads become grandparents, and that we would share losses, successes, weddings, and all the vicissitudes of life with our customers.
Two key ingredients made this happen including the hundreds of wonderful people that have worked at RJ Julia over the years—some have been here from the beginning, some were here briefly, most have been here for years. They each contribute to our culture, love helping customers, and add their enthusiasm to book selling. Today, the reason I remain energized and enthusiastic after all these years is the team in place now. They are incredible, passionate, and knowledgeable. They are lead by Lori Fazio, our Chief Operating Officer - she is indefatigable, smart, and committed to the notion of sustaining and expanding the role of independent bookselling in our community; Liz Bartek manages to book our hundreds of events and oversees our website and newsletters; and Andrew Brennan (who first worked for us in the '90s as a high school student!) is our Merchandise Manager - he buys all the books for the store, making sure we have the most exciting, dynamic selection. Julie Arriens, our Store Manager, has been with us 15 years and understands fundamentally how critical great customer service is. I wish I could name the additional 40 people who are booksellers, bookkeepers, receivers, and gift buyers — they all are amazing and fun, engaged, voracious readers!
The second and indispensable element of our longevity is all of you—the loyalty our customers have extended over the past 28 years takes my breath away. You are the reason we open our doors each day and for that, we are forever grateful.
As I stood by the door that April 19th, I was 41. Many people suggested that it was pure folly to start a risky business at that age. Yet, I now look at that 41 year old and understand how young that is.
Here is what I would have told the 41 year old, 8 month pregnant me: Go ahead — do it! There will be thousands of staff and readers and authors who also are committed to creating and sustaining a place where the written and spoken word is honored and cherished. They will help make it happen — and so together we have.
Happy 28th Birthday RJ Julia Booksellers!
As a gesture of profound appreciation, please join us this Thursday, April 19th. We'll be serving complimentary coffee and breakfast bites upon opening our doors. Or, come sip some bubbly and shop: we'll serve up champagne and our fabulous staff suggestions from 3pm-5pm. We can't wait to toast both another great year of books and you, our loyal customers.
See you in the store,
Roxanne J. Coady