Spotlight on ABA Board Candidate Betsy Burton

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Last Friday, all ABA regular bookstore members were sent -- either via e-mail or U.S. Postal Service -- a ballot for the 2009 Board of Directors elections, listing the names of three director candidates: Betsy Burton of The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah; Becky Anderson of Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois; and Beth Puffer of Bank Street Bookstore in New York City. The ballot also includes the names of Michael Tucker of Books Inc. in San Francisco for president and Becky Anderson for vice-president/secretary. E-mail ballots must be submitted by April 30; printed ballots must be postmarked by April 30 and received by ABA's auditors, Marks Paneth & Schron, by May 7.

Over the next several weeks, BTW will be talking to each of the Board candidates about their bookselling careers and about their focus if elected to serve the interests of the community of independent booksellers. This week's profile is Betsy Burton of The King's English.

Betsy Burton

A Utah native, Betsy Burton got into bookselling when she and a friend, Ann Berman, were renting neighboring offices in the Salt Lake City building that now houses The King's English. Both writers, they came up with the idea that they could open a bookstore together, which naturally would leave them plenty of time to work on their novels. "We thought we'd write our books in the store's backroom and come to the front only when the doorbell tinkled," Burton explained. "We weren't very well trained booksellers 31 years ago."

Burton and Berman rented another part of the building for the bookstore and read Bowker's Books in Print from cover to cover to pick their inventory. In 1981, Berman left the business, and Burton ran the store alone for about seven years. In 1987, Barbara Hoagland became a partner. The two purchased the building and gradually took over other parts of it, including an adjoining gas station. Hoagland is now a silent partner in the business, as is Deon Hilger, a former King's English staff member.

Burton did eventually write a book, of course, The King's English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller (Gibbs Smith), which details some of the adventures, mishaps, and author readings that have taken place at the store over the years. "I never finished the novel," she said, "which is probably a good thing." Burton is currently working on a new novel about a child with special needs, an issue with which she has personal experience.

One of the projects that has meant the most to her, said Burton, is Local First Utah. She co-founded the organization, which now has a membership of 2,000. Burton had been actively reaching out to the local government and other businesses on Local First issues for years, but she wasn't reaching the public directly, a problem addressed by the formation of Local First Utah in 2005. "I've never done anything that's made me feel more connected to the community, and made me see how important that connection is to all of us," she said.

For Burton, the benefits of participating in a strong Local First organization don't stop at communicating the importance of locally owned businesses more broadly. "I never did anything as important politically, even [compared to] working for Obama," she said. "It's world changing. It makes people think about where they live, and it crosses all boundaries -- political, economic. It's something all booksellers should think about doing."

Burton has long been an advocate for the First Amendment and free expression -- she serves on the Board of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and was a plaintiff in ABFFE's challenge to a Utah law that censors the Internet. "It's so central to everything we do ... as booksellers," she said.

Burton has also served on ABA's Booksellers Advisory Council and on the Board of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, and she is a current Board member of the American Independent Business Alliance. As the parent of a child with special needs, she has spent years working with various organizations dealing with disabilities.

As an ABA Board member, Burton said she'd like to develop tactical education to help booksellers meet the challenges of a profound recession. "Not to state the obvious, but this year, in addition to the perennial challenge presented by the national chains and dot-coms, we need to acquire the skills to survive in a plummeting economy," said Burton. "Education is obviously something that can help in this area, and something I'm interested in furthering. There is a sea change in the population that has to do with more than dollars. People's loyalties are shifting from big to small, from international to local, to home and community."

Burton wants to continue her work with ABFFE, along with other programs critical to ABA's mission. "Although I assume that under the Obama Administration the threats posed by the so-called 'Patriot' Act will diminish, I believe it is our duty as protectors of the written word to follow in the footsteps of one of my personal heroes, Joyce Meskis [the owner of Denver's Tattered Cover], in putting ourselves on the line to protect our customers. I'm looking forward to continued involvement in ABFFE, in IndieBound, and in educational efforts which help us survive and thrive." --Karen Schechner