Fairy tale ending for Through the Looking Glass bookstore
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
This is one of those stories that would fittingly begin with “Once upon a time …”
The story would continue about a family that moved to a small town and opened a bookstore in 1978.
Now after 33 years, this story is fast approaching the “and lived happily ever after” stage.
Through the Looking Glass, the quaint little bookstore at 816 Grand Ave. in downtown Glenwood Springs, is currently penning its epilogue. The bookstore will close at the end of May.
Even the Cheshire Cat is sad about this turn in the plot.
Looking around her store, Sharon Graves, 64, smiles.
She and her husband John, 65, first opened Through the Looking Glass in January 1978 in the Tamarack Building at 10th and Grand. They moved the store to its current location in 1993.
John, who has worked at the Hot Springs Lodge for more than two decades, has handled the bookkeeping duties for the store over the years, while Sharon selected the books that fed the imaginations of countless readers.
Finding an identity for the store, with its “Alice in Wonderland” theme, was simple.
Graves first read Lewis Carroll in the eighth grade, and she loved his brilliant and, yes, bizarre writings. Being a fan of Carroll’s literary work, Graves said the name Through the Looking Glass was a natural for the bookstore.
“We never really had any other choices. Sometimes something hits you and you know it’s right,” Sharon said.
After moving to the 816 Grand Ave. location, they purchased the store’s distinctive yellow awning, with its drawing of Alice. Over the years, customers return to the store with Alice in Wonderland trinkets, posters and collectables.
“They’d see something ‘Alice,’ and they would get it for me and the store,” Graves said. Many of these items are on display around the store.
Behind the counter, a mural depicts the toothy Cheshire Cat with its mischievous grin perched on a branch, one of the classic characters from “Alice in Wonderland.”
Longtime employee and artist Joanie McGuern painted the Cheshire Cat and touched up the White Rabbit.
The artwork and Fairy tale theme fits the store well, and the overall atmosphere matches Sharon’s boundless personality. As usual, her voice is full of energy and enthusiasm as she greets a customer who walks through the door.
“This is the end and this is the beginning. We know that from books,” she says about how beginnings and endings go together.
“I love a new adventure. Just like a good book, it’s time for a new beginning,” she said.
The quaint little bookstore with the unique name has been the go-to location for locals and visitors alike for three decades. It has always had a special emphasis on excellent books for children.
Graves shares stories about some of the people who have graced her store over the years, like the couple that stopped in a few hours before their wedding.
“I said, are you kidding me, you’re getting married and you stopped here first?”
They simply said that Through the Looking Glass was always their first stop when they came to town.
Then a longtime customer walks in. Seeing the “Retirement Sale” sign, Nora Benko is distraught.
For more than 30 years, she has been made the trip from Aspen to browse the shelves of Through the Looking Glass, finding books for herself and all her kids.
She’s near tears as she talks to her old friend. There’s now a box of tissues handy for customers who are having a hard time saying goodbye.
“Sharon would always have the best books. This is just a lifetime of memories,” Benko says, then gives Graves a big hug.
“I will miss all the people, and especially the kids. They are so full of energy. They lift your day,” Graves says.
Then she throws out her arms and proclaims, “It’s time to be a kid again.”
Then, like they were cued to enter, a pair of little sisters no more than 4 years old pull their parents into the store.
Smooshing their faces to the glass of the checkout counter, their glee increases as they look at the characters from Alice in Wonderland and other Fairy tale figurines.
“I like Humpty Dumpty,” one exclaims, while her sister says Peter Rabbit is her favorite.
Today, as she watches her shelves grow bare, Graves talks about the importance of community and how that was always at the core of her and John’s values.
John Graves served on City Council for four years, and Sharon has always been one of the most active members of the downtown business community.
“It wasn’t about becoming a millionaire. I don’t think anyone who owns a small business really thinks you’re going to be a millionaire,” she says. “It was about passion and about being part of something special. Something like being part of the community.”
Then she stops and glances around the store.
“Enjoy what you’re doing,” she says with an affirming nod. “That is important, and being part of a community, that is special.”
After her store is gone, Graves said when it’s time to buy books she will remain in Glenwood Springs, shopping at the Book Train or the Book Grove, Glenwood’s used bookstore. But there’s one thing she will not do.
“I will tell you this, I won’t go online to buy books,” she said. “It’s important to be unified with your community.”
Through the Looking Glass has always supported local authors.
The bookstore’s office is full of photos, posters, articles and other scrapbook items, all memorabilia and snippets that Graves has saved from the countless local authors who held book signings at the store.
“This is the Hall of Fame,” she said, looking at the wall. “It’s been so nice to be part of their stories and to share their stories. They are part of us, and so many of them have great stories to tell.”
Like a good mystery, the future isn’t really clear yet, Graves admits.
Taking her grandchildren to the Harry Potter theme park in Florida, visiting relatives around the county and just relaxing are items on the list right now.
The grandchildren, Camden, 10, and Chase, 8, live in California, so there will be lots of visits to the West Coast.
Astronomy and baseball will be part of the retirement plan too.
Graves said she’s always been a bit of an astronomy buff, and she hopes to dabble more in the ways of the stars when she’s retired.
“I would sit outside and look at the stars as a child,” she said. “I’ve always been fascinated with astronomy. My husband would like to do baseball, and I would like to do astronomy,” she says with a laugh.
Like a good book or that enchanting easel in the sky, Sharon isn’t completely sure about the future. But that’s OK with her.
Whatever the future holds, there will be beginnings and endings.
Just like a good book and a classic Fairy tale.
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Jonathan Godes will serve another term as the mayor of Glenwood Springs.