An Indie Bookstore at the Heart of its Community

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Brad Smith '74 left a familiar life to own Paulina Springs Books in Central Oregon

 From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

For 25 years, Brad Smith ’73 was thoroughly engaged in his position as manager of the Community Food Co-Op in Bellingham, Washington. During a time when the worlds of natural foods and organic agriculture grew exponentially, Brad saw this member-owned business grow just as quickly. He had loved the intimacy and personal sense of accomplishment of the co-op’s early years, but that grew harder to attain when the staff expanded five-fold.
When the 2000s rolled around, Brad realized that it was time for a change. His work didn’t provide what it did before, his partner Randi was aching to relocate, and he wanted to be closer to his father, who had developed Parkinson’s and lived in Bend. They took the plunge, and moved to Bend.
Brad considered starting or buying a business. When he found out in 2003 that Paulina Springs Books in Sisters was up for sale, he had to consider some significant drawbacks, including its insufficient revenue, its location away from Bend, and the advent of the digital publishing revolution. He made his decision—to buy the bookstore. He had a personal affinity for the business and recognized its integrity, and he believed in the value of literature and literacy.
“The biggest positive element was the degree to which the bookstore was an engaged member of the community,” he says. “It took me back to the early days of the co-op. People coming in the store knew one another and knew the staff. This is not a good measure for selecting a livelihood, but in terms of how to spend the hours of one’s life, I feel it’s a pretty good one.”
Brad opened a second location, closer to Bend in Redmond, in 2007. The biggest challenge of making a move like Brad and Randi did was losing the relationships they had built in Bellingham. But he found that owning the bookstores quickly integrated him into his new towns: he’s served on civic boards in both Redmond and Sisters, and in addition he serves the broader community on the board of directors of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association.
Independent bookstores have lost a large part of their market to Amazon and digital publishing. Brad says he is scrambling to re-invent the business so it can stay viable, and he’s not sure what the future holds. But he’s thankful for the rewards that lie in the kinds of personal interactions that small bookstores foster. “I get to know people—young and old, rich and poor— outside of my inner circle of relationships,” he says. “The relationships are not deep, but they’re real, and they evolve.”