A Growing Concern: Paulina Springs Books

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After managing a food co-op that grew from four employees into a 100-person operation, Brad Smith was looking for a business where he could once again know most of his customers personally. He found that in Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, Oregon, population 2,000.

Smith had moved to central Oregon in 2003 and was looking to buy a business. Paulina Springs Books, established in 1992, was for sale by then owners Dick Sandvick and Diane Campbell and was the first business that really appealed to him. "I wasn't looking to buy a bookstore, but I appreciated that bookselling is an industry of integrity," he said. "I guess I've become spoiled or picky about what I do." Smith bought the store with his wife, Randi Schuyler, and his sister, Cynthia Claridge.

Although he hadn't been a bookseller before buying Paulina Springs, Smith had overseen the book-buying department at the food co-op. His retail experience carried over, but one of his struggles was selecting inventory, and he used both Book Sense Picks and Bestseller lists to help identify titles.

In the small town of Sisters, known for its hiking, camping, and fishing, Smith said the bookstore relies on the business from tourists, so its inventory emphasizes field guides and other outdoor titles. Paulina Springs is "very much a general bookstore," however, and other specialties include children's and regional literature as well as Book Sense and Staff Picks sections. During tourist season, which runs from April through September, the store holds about one event per week. One recent event featured Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea, Penguin). Fixtures, which are on wheels, are pushed aside to accommodate attendees.

On December 1, Paulina Springs will expand beyond Sisters and open a second, 2,600-square-foot store in nearby Redmond, which has a population of 25,000. "When I bought the first bookstore [in Sisters], I always intended to open another in Redmond, which doesn't have an independent," said Smith. "I just felt there was a really good opportunity there. The new store will be very similar in character and displays, but I have to get in there to find out what my customers' interests are to know what to stock.

"The building we'll be in was built in the '20s," explained Smith. "It was in terrible shape. But the owner put in new plumbing, new wiring, a new roof. It's practically a new building."

Smith's sister, Cynthia, who worked as a second grade teacher in Redmond, will be working in the new location. "She'll be a great asset," said Smith. "She taught in Redmond for 30 years, so she has relationships with local schools and teachers."

In a recent store newsletter, Smith announced to customers that the original store had recently expanded and that a second Paulina Springs Books would be opening in Redmond; however, he emphasized, the nature of the bookstore would remain a constant. "One thing that will not change is our commitment to providing the best possible service to our shoppers and a continuing selection of books to satisfy your literary pursuits. Our goal is to have the books on hand you want to read -- not the greatest number of books." --Karen Schechner