Owner of new bookstore in Basalt feels time is right to turn the page

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Catherine Maas is undaunted by the digital age and the Amazon era.

Maas opened Bookbinders Basalt at Willits Town Center earlier this month after assessing if a bricks-and-mortar bookstore can still make it. After talking to Roaring Fork Valley residents and examining national trends, she determined there is a need for a good old-fashioned, independent bookstore.

On the national front, the Borders chain went out of business in 2011, and Barnes & Noble is tightening the ship to keep afloat. That was coupled with dramatic growth in e-books.

But independent bookstores are proving resilient and, in the right circumstances, new stores are opening as part of a “second wave” after tough times for the industry, Maas said.

Even Amazon is planning brick-and-mortar stores.

“There’s a trend,” she said. “It’s not just me.”

Maas sees digital and print coexisting. Just as many people have continued going to movies at theaters despite vast improvements in home entertainment systems, she believes people will continue shopping at bookstores despite digital access and e-readers.

Bookstores provide a place for book lovers to interact, educate themselves on what’s available and walk away with a purchase rather than click their computer.

“Really, it’s become entertainment,” Maas said of the shopping experience.

She looks to Denver for inspiration. “I’m a big fan of Tattered Cover in Denver,” she said. Explore Booksellers in Aspen also has secured its future.

Bookbinders Basalt opened at 760 E. Valley Road in the heart of Willits Town Center. The new store is located in the neighborhood of longtime retailers that help drive traffic. Midland Clothing is next door. Bristlecone Mountain Sports and Basalt Bike and Ski are across the street. Whole Foods is the area anchor.

Maas bought a 1,200-square-foot space that hadn’t been previously occupied, so she was able to start from scratch on the interior. She worked with Land + Shelter Architecture in Carbondale to create an interior space dominated by reclaimed wood, elegant lighting fixtures and the industrial feel that’s so popular. They created a mezzanine where an “art wall” features a special category of books.

The fun part of the start-up was selecting the inventory. They have over 5,000 titles plus magazines, gifts, educational toys and puzzles.

Maas said she was aiming for items that cannot be found elsewhere and are offered at a reasonable price.

A generous amount of space is dedicated to books for children and young adults. There is a reading cabin to draw in young readers with seats nearby for parents. There will be a story time at 11 a.m. each Friday.

There are books by well-known authors such as Clive Cussler and Danielle Steel but also lesser-known writers.

Adventure, mountaineering, outdoors and Western-themed books have a prominent place.

There is a small section of Spanish-language fiction and nonfiction books.

Books by authors appearing at the Aspen Summer Words program have a special display. Maas, the mother of an Aspen High School student, is carrying the books that are required summer reading for the school’s experiential education program.

Bookbinders also will beef up its local writers’ section with time.

Maas doesn’t intend to run a store that relies on customers stumbling across it. Activities are planned to ingrain it with the community. A new book club will meet from 6-7 p.m. July 20. First up on the reading list is “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. The intent is to meet monthly. The gathering is open to all.

Poetry readings and book signings also are events on the horizon.

The bookstore has a counter in the front window with a handful of stools. Customers are welcome to bring coffee or other drinks from outside businesses and settle in. The store’s hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Maas said her longtime friend Lisa Krass moved to the Roaring Fork Valley to help her run the bookstore. Heather Scobell is the buyer and senior staffer. A high school intern also is on staff to provide invaluable input on the tastes of young readers.

Maas said the staff will always welcome input from customers and will order any books they cannot find on the shelves.

“I think of books as part of a well-rounded life,” Maas said.

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