Revitalized Tecolote Book Shop to Celebrate Grand Reopening

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In May 2007, the Tecolote Book Shop, an 82-year-old institution in the wealthy Santa Barbara, California, community of Montecito, was in jeopardy of closing, when then-manager Mary Sheldon, who fully understood the indie's value to local residents, "did something about it," she recently explained. Now, a little more than a year after becoming one of the store's new owners, Sheldon will preside over the refurbished Tecolote Book Shop's grand reopening on Friday, September 19.

Sheldon had worked at Tecolote (the Aztec word for Owl) since 1992. "As a manager, I basically ran the whole thing," she said. But, in May 2007, the store's owner, Margaret Dent, decided she wanted to retire and to sell the bookstore to Sheldon. "And if not to me, she said she would close the store," Sheldon recalled.

Though she wanted to purchase the store, Sheldon recognized that it needed to be completely refurbished. And, simply put, to buy the store, she would need help. "It needed to be funded -- it needed new carpeting, it needed refreshing, and I knew I couldn't do that." So she called longtime customer Herb Simon and asked if he would invest in the store. "He just loves the store and has been a customer here for the last 20 years," Sheldon said. "All the time I was here I always thought he'd be the perfect person for the store."

Simon brought in two other Montecito residents, Marc Winkleman and Len Freedman, as minority stakeholders. And by June 2007, Sheldon was a co-owner of Tecolote Book Shop. "It went very quickly!" she quipped.

In July 2008, the refurbishment commenced. "From ceiling to floor, we gutted the store," Sheldon reported. Fortunately, Tecolote, which is located in a small shopping center, managed to stay somewhat open during the renovations by moving some key inventory to a nearby vacant space "just to maintain a presence." The rest of the store's stock was placed in a moving van. "We moved the books out on July 5th, they started tearing the store apart on the 7th, and we were [moving back in] on July 23rd. We have a new ceiling, all new fixtures, new carpeting -- everything is new, you name it," she explained.

The other three partners have given Sheldon full autonomy in managing the store. "None of the [others] take a day-to-day, active approach to the store," she said. But now that she's an owner, Sheldon has noticed a slight difference in her duties. "When I was managing, I did everything, all the day-to-day, and when I bought the store, I thought that this would continue. But [as an owner] I seem to spend a lot more time on the phone doing a lot more stuff -- I just don't know what it is though!" she said with a laugh.

The 1,300-square-foot Tecolote is a general bookstore that sells "99.9 percent" new books. "We will special order used books that are out-of-print," Sheldon said. The closest chain bookstore is five miles away in Santa Barbara, but "we haven't felt too much competition because people in Montecito don't like to go shopping in Santa Barbara -- even though it's only five miles way.... We've been hurt most by Amazon."

Overall, Sheldon is happy to keep the 83-year-old bookstore going, since it is such a part of the community's history. "There are people who shop here who are buying books for their grandchildren, who had their own grandparents buy books for them at Tecolote Book Shop," she said.

Sheldon has put the IndieBound EAT SLEEP READ poster in the store window, but pointed out that, fortunately, the eye-catching poster is preaching to the converted. "The residents here provide strong support for the independents in this community," she said, "and [IndieBound] simply reaffirms what they do already." --David Grogan