Well, I don’t think anyone could have imagined our 30th birthday occurring in this environment, nor did it occur to me that after one 20-year happy career, my lark or dream would result in a second 30-year career!
But here we are. In a peculiar way, this moment in time perfectly reveals what locally owned independent bookstores embody.
As Kevin and I were about to open the doors in April 1990, giving birth to RJ Julia Booksellers and, just a few months later, our son Edward, I doubt we understood the full breadth of the journey we were about to begin. As we raise a child, we are very familiar with the notion of nature versus nurture. Do kids just come a certain way and we are traffic cops, merely impacting them around the edges? Or, are nature and nurture inextricably entwined, each nourishing the other?
We might not think about an entity like RJ Julia being "birthed" and it too being subject to the debate of nature versus nurture. But as I sit at this juncture six weeks into a landscape shockingly altered by the pandemic, it is clear that the theory applies.
Our nature forges and fuels how we function. Independent bookstores are born with hearts, with passion, and with an understanding that they are a necessary part of a history. That history began with the power of the very first words being written down. No, in fact, it goes further back—we are linked to the ancient communal tradition of storytelling.
By creating a community space for storytelling, we have the ability to transform, entertain, distract, and most critically, to inspire dreams through stories. It is what brings us joy and purpose. It is our nature that defines us, drives us, and informs our actions. This is our responsibility and commitment.
Of course, nature alone is not enough. The capacity to leverage our nature is where the nurturing comes in; we sure as hell have been nurtured!
Our fellow independent booksellers across the country and across the world provide a unique and wonderful kinship. From day one, when Carol Horne and Frank Kramer (Harvard Bookstore), Ed Morrow (Northshire), Suzy Staubach (UCONN), and Miriam Sontz (Powell's) provided an insane amount of time and wisdom to me, to today when we know that any of our staff members can pick up the phone and receive expertise, advice, sympathy, and cheer leading from hundreds of other booksellers, we recognize and appreciate that we are part of an industry filled by people of extraordinary generosity.
Publishers, from the "Big 5" to smaller, independent presses, have ensured our success by bringing authors to our stores, being innovative about financial support, and publishing books that engage and excite the senses. The best of these partnerships reflect an understanding that our independent, trustworthy judgment as readers generates enthusiasm for their books and therefore, we both thrive. The key link is our sales representatives. They work hard to personalize this approach and are always there when we need them. We are grateful for their continued guidance.
When I think about the magical moments in our 30 years, they are inevitably tied to visits from authors: Pete Hamill, taking all the time in the world in the August heat to listen to readers' stories about their families for A Drinking Life; Judy Collins singing Amazing Grace (without any music!) as she shared the story of losing her son; the palpable emotion one evening when Helen Epstein (Where She Came From) and Honor Moore (The White Blackbird) resurrected the stories of their grandmothers; the sustained standing ovation for Madeleine Albright or Deepak Chopra or Anne Lamott; the almost 1,500 people patiently in line to meet Neil Gaiman, or Mariano Rivera, or Hillary Clinton, or Giada DeLaurentiis, or President Jimmy Carter, or Don Imus.... Oh, there are hundreds of stories, vividly in my mind. I'm so grateful for their impact. We have welcomed thousands of authors and probably hundreds of thousands of you to hear their stories. This privilege of introducing writer to reader is a never ending source of satisfaction.
None of this could happen without our hardworking, kind, thoughtful smart staff. We have been blessed with booksellers who have been with us for decades, who consider themselves stewards of our legacy, and faithful to responding to our customers needs or stories or excitement for a book. They are amazing. They inspire me. There is no way on earth RJ Julia Booksellers would be where it is today without the dedication each of our booksellers demonstrates every single time they arrive at the store. They are a miracle!
Lastly, YOU: our community. Our community supports us, cheers us, and understands that we are partners. This has never been more apparent than with the great success of our recent Books for Kids program, established to ensure that children throughout the state receive free books while schools and libraries are closed due to COVID-19. You all have contributed more than $40,000 to this importance cause.
Your generosity, coupled with Senator Chris Murphy reaching out to his supporters, now means this quickly assembled program will soon be distributing almost 30,000 books in New Haven, Norwalk, Bridgeport, and Middletown. Bravo, indeed!
That’s a whole lot of nurturing!
Hard times expose weaknesses, fragile ties, and inequities, but they also reveal strength, connection, and humanity. That is why this crazy scary time is the perfect time to celebrate. This environment reveals the magical marriage of our nature and an abundance of nurture, which has created the 30-year-old RJ Julia Booksellers, a place, a space, which represents our best selves. Our nature was nurtured!
Happy 30th birthday to our publishing partners, our authors, our beloved readers, our community, and our inspiring staff for allowing our nature, that fierce commitment to believing books can change a life, to flourish.
Thank you may feel like two flimsy words yet my heart could not be more filled when I say thank you on behalf of our leadership team (Lori, Andrew, Julie, Erica, and Liz) and all the staff of RJ Julia Booksellers for the honor of being your independent bookstore for 30 years.
And, oh! Happy almost 30th birthday to Edward Ohlbaum Coady!
We will see you in the store and we will celebrate,
Roxanne J. Coady
RJ Julia Booksellers