Next Saturday, October 19, Antigone Books is proudly celebrating 40 years of bookselling with the community of Tucson, Arizona. Staff will host a day of discounts, games, and cake, as they reflect on the store’s success and look forward to its future.
“We’ve been really, really lucky,” said co-owner Trudy Mills, who bought the store almost 30 years ago, a few years before the height of big-box bookstores.
Antigone’s origins can be found in “the heyday of the women’s movement,” said Mills, when, in 1973, three women decided to open one of the first feminist bookstores in a very small storefront, at a time when books about women were sometimes difficult to find.
The store changed hands twice before Mills purchased it in 1986. Four years later, she welcomed Kate Randall as the store’s co-owner. Big box stores had descended upon the area, but always slightly outside of Antigone’s radius, so “we didn’t have to face them head on,” said Mills.
Though the proliferation of big boxes forced other local independent bookstores to close, Antigone was, paradoxically, able to grow in strength in terms of inventory and the quality of its staff, as booksellers from other stores gravitated towards the town’s remaining indie. It was then that Antigone transformed from a feminist store to a more general bookstore with an all-inclusive inventory.
The surrounding community is a vital element in the bookstore’s continued success, said Mills, who noted that customers have helped push it into new areas. The city is home to an extensive Buddhist community, and as a result –– despite the owners knowing little about Buddhist culture –– Antigone has developed a strong section on Buddhism and hosts a Buddhist book group. “That was totally built from the community,” said Mills. “That’s what’s so great about being an independent store. You can just look around, and your neighbors will tell you what they want.”
In 1995, after years of renting, Mills and Randall decided to purchase their own property. In a stroke of luck, the Salvation Army was selling a 4,500 square-foot space in the middle of Tucson’s shopping district. Many other retailers had expressed interest in the property, and several were turned down, but Mills and Randall were able to buy the property where Antigone still stands today. “We must have called them on the right day,” said Mills.
The new location, which is five times bigger than Antigone’s previous space, allowed the store to expand to include a variety of sections, as well as a much bigger children’s section. “We didn’t think we’d be able to fill the space, but we did,” said Mills.
Importantly, though Antigone has had its share of good fortune over the years, “we work really hard, too,” said Mills. “I guess it can’t all just be luck.”