Books, Coffee & the Great Outdoors

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Arches Book Company is part of a Moab, Utah, bookstore triumvirate co-owned by Andy Nettell, a former National Park Service Ranger. The two other bookstores are nearby -- Back of Beyond Books is across the street, and ABC & Beyond Used Books is a couple of blocks south -- creating a mini southwestern Hay-on-Wye in downtown Moab.

Before turning to bookselling, Nettell, who is currently president of the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association, had worked as a ranger at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Canyonland National Park, and Arches National Park. He gradually transitioned into bookselling after working part-time at Back of Beyond Books in the early 1990s. "I've been somewhat of a book-a-holic my whole life," he recently told BTW.

Arches Book Company, a 1,600-square-foot general interest store, opened in October 2001 in a 80-year-old brick building of indeterminate architectural style that had once served as the Moab Garage. The store's full-service WiFI coffee bar sells coffee brewed from beans roasted on-site, as well as muffins and cookies prepared elsewhere. As a convenience, Arches stores customers' Book Sense gift cards near the cash register, and many locals reload them monthly and use them daily for cafe purchases.

In April 2004, Nettell and his several silent partners bought Back of Beyond Books, a well-established 1,500-square-foot regional bookstore, which just happened to be across the street from Arches Book Company. The store, whose name is taken from Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang, has a strong emphasis on regional writers, environmental literature, regional history, Native Americana, liberal political books, maps, and guidebooks. The 1,000-square-foot ABC & Beyond Used Books opened in a plaza a block south of the other two stores in 2005.

Events typically take place at Back of Beyond and mostly feature regional nonfiction books. "We probably only host 12 events a year," said Nettell. "We're a little off the beaten path and don't see many big authors coming through. We do count Robert Fulghum and Terry Tempest Williams as local authors and host them when they publish new titles."

The three stores are united in their promotion of green issues and recycling and their collective primary sponsorship of "Confluence, a Celebration of Reading and Writing," Moab's new environmental literary festival. The festival's inaugural honoree is Edward Abbey, next year's will be Wallace Stegner.

With gas prices soaring, Nettell expressed concern about the tourist-driven economy of Moab and his bookstore enclave. To stay competitive, he said, "I'm putting our rare and collectible book department online, broadening our gift lines, roasting and selling our own coffee beans, and just trying to diversify.

"It's not getting any easier," he said. "But I love what I do. Challenging retail landscape, long hours, yadda, yadda. I still couldn't think of anything I'd rather do." --Karen Schechner