Sunday, December 15, 2013

Changing Hands - more than a bookstore

Those with literary parents learn a few important lessons in childhood. For example, to share your favorite book is to share a piece of your soul. A good book is a great escape. Reading a book aloud together is a wonderful way to build lasting memories. Visiting the bookstore is an adventure. Literary people know -- discovering a new good book is as exciting as anything, and where better to discover new and exciting literature than at a local independent bookstore?

Unfortunately, due to a floundering economy, the advent of digital publishing, and the rise of Amazon, independent bookstores have become an endangered species. The economy, ebooks, and Amazon -- even large bookstore chains, like Borders, which closed the last of their brick and mortar locations by the end of 2011, are threatened by this triumvirate of terror. How can independent bookstores hope to survive?

At least one independent bookstore in Arizona seems to be thriving. Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, located on the Southwest corner of Guadalupe and McClintock, has been in business for over thirty years, and is still going strong. Its selling floor is thoughtfully organized, with greeting cards, a vast selection of gifts, and of course, new and used books beautifully displayed. The store is filled with custom signage, curios, employee recommendations, and cases full of interesting items to engage anyone's interest. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, the staff knowledgeable and friendly. From within the store, the comforting but distant bustle of a restaurant can be heard. Attached to the bookstore is the Wildflower Bread Company, a bakery/cafe serving fresh and outstanding food. The Tuscan Kale salad and the Salmon Caesar salad are highly recommended.

According to the Changing Hands website, the bookstore started in Downtown Tempe in 1974. Changing Hands eventually outgrew its humble 500 square foot beginnings and graduated to a two level location on popular Mill Avenue that soon required expansion. In 1998, a second location was opened (the current store). In 2000, the Mill Avenue location, a wonderful 5,000 square foot, three level space had to be closed.

Since then, the Changing Hands store still in operation has only shown signs of growth. One key to its popularity is an array of weekly events planned for the community. Poetry readings, writing workshops, special guest presentations, signings, and a teen book club are only a few of the things Changing Hands offers. In the past year, Changing Hands has hosted authors such as Neil Gaiman, Anne Rice, Marie Osmond, Cassandra Clare, Cory Doctorow, and Timothy Zahn.

So in spite of all of the frightening changes happening in the publishing world, and the difficulties booksellers have had to overcome in order to stay viable, Changing Hands' philosophy of bringing the community together through literature has remained strong.

How could it be more optimistically stated than this? In spring 2014, Changing Hands is opening a new location in Phoenix, on 300 West Camelback Road.

Here's to the independent bookstore, long may it reign.

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