Shirley Muller, Owner of Bay Books in Coronado, Dies at 65

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Shirley Muller, the prominent Southern California bookseller, died of cancer on September 18. She was 65.

Muller's early retail career included selling frozen foods, magazines, and flowers, but, as she explained, she preferred the "longer shelf life" of books. Muller opened the 4,500-square-foot Bay Books in 1991 in Coronado, the island community off the coast of San Diego. She had often dreamed of owning a bookstore, long-time friend and store manager Barbara Chambers, told BTW: "Her mother, Kathleen Hanson, opened the first English-language bookstore in Mexico City, Libros Libros."

Chambers recalled the genesis of Muller's beginnings as a bookseller. "After a year of running an upscale plant store, she decided to turn it into what she really wanted -- an independent bookstore. She saw the store as a little intellectual center; every book was so carefully selected. Shirley loved having the unique and individual collections."

Large foreign language and military history sections were of particular importance to Muller. Her own background accounts for the former: Muller was reared by Irish and German parents in Mexico. She lived and worked in Mexico until 1978, when she moved to Coronado with her son, Henry. Books about the military are in high demand in the heavily touristed town, which is home to two military bases.

Bay Books has remained the only bookstore in Coronado, and the largest independent bookstore in San Diego County. Since access to the town from the mainland is only via the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, Muller was always thinking of innovative ways to attract the locals to maintain a customer base. An April 18 issue of BTW details her promotion of imprinting 10,000 copies of each new Book Sense 76 list with her store information. Copies of the 76 list were then inserted in the Coronado Eagle and Journal.

Muller’s obituary, which appeared in the Coronado Eagle and Journal on September 24, noted that "Shirley Muller didn’t just operate an independent bookstore. She guided it through several expansions, in an age when shopkeepers were more likely to give way to superstores than add shelves…[Muller] became known for both her discerning eye and her feisty defense of independent booksellers."

"In her every waking thought was how our store could compete, how to best support every independent store," Chambers recalled. The store will remain open with its 16-person staff, including Chambers as store manager and David Joslin as buyer. Henry, Muller’s son, will take a more active role in the running of the store.