Intrepid former Algonquin intern David Bradley and his trusty sidekick, Lucky the Leprechaun, hit the road last summer for a tour of (almost all) the coolest, hippest, greatest indie bookstores in the United States. Join us for the journey…
BOULDER, Colorado — I haven’t mentioned any of the dangerous shenanigans from The Lucky Tour in any of my posts so far. So let’s talk about that. (Mom, just skip the next two paragraphs.) Between Salt Lake City and Boulder, Colorado, I took a couple days to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Both breathtaking, both exquisite….both full of dangerous possibilities. As you would expect, Arches National Park is chock full of eroded arches that are tantalizingly close but just out of reach. Perfect for an amateur rock climber (amateur does mean no prior experience, yes?). There was one particular crevice that I absolutely had to get to. I used all my skills to climb halfway to the top, at which point my foot slipped and I was left holding myself up just with my arms. I pulled myself to the next crevice and, once safe, immediately headed back down, humbled.
Lesson learned? No. The next day I was exploring Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park and I came upon Mesa Arch, a perfectly framed arch hanging roughly a million feet over solid ground. I’m a smart guy, so naturally I decided I should try to climb across it. One third of the way across, I saw a bird at about my height tuck its wings and instantaneously drop a couple thousand feet. It was at this point that I remembered I have an intense fear of heights, and I started involuntarily shaking. The ten feet that I had so easily covered moments before took me another five minutes to ever-so-slowly back my way across. But, being back on solid ground, there’s no way I could get myself into more shenanigans. It’s not like I would put my car in neutral and suddenly be going 85 mph down a slick Rocky Mountain highway or anything…
Despite the trials, I did arrive in Boulder (somehow) unscathed. And thank goodness I did, because it would have been a sore disappointment to miss out on Boulder Book Store. One of the busiest stores I visited, Boulder Book Store is split into three levels and even more rooms, with each area donning its own wonderful personality. The downstairs is cozy and practical with extensive travel and non-fiction selection. The main level is finely finished and filled with frenzied, frolicking customers exploring all the newest selections, with a calmer Children’s section in the back for the younger folks (and the young-at-heart). Upstairs has a secluded hallway of religious and philosophical texts right next to the most serene and fantastic room of fiction in the United States. A former ballroom, Boulder Book Store’s fiction room sits openly aglow with natural light filling its vaulted ceilings. Every room in Boulder is worthy of praise, but the ballroom is an absolute masterpiece.
Head Buyer Arsen Kashkashian took the time to answer our Algonquin Questionnaire.
When did Boulder Book Store first open?
Boulder Book Store opened in September of 1973, so we [just celebrated] our 40th birthday.
What is the oddest book that you sell at Boulder Book Store?
Well, the oddest book I can think of is by Dian Hanson and it’s a little explicit, so I won’t mention the title [but those of you who are curious can click here]. It always surprises me with how well it sells.
What is the oddest non-book item that you have here?
We have quite a few odd knickknacks. We have a large selection of chocolates, including some with bacon and Pop Rocks. We sell small metal models of planes and automobiles. We used to sell olive oil really well, but I don’t think we carry that anymore. Certainly the most annoying items were these music boxes we used to stock. From open to close you’d hear them going off.
What is your favorite Algonquin book and your favorite recommendation for the summer?
My favorite Algonquin book is A Virtuous Woman from Kaye Gibbons even though it came out quite a few years ago. For this summer I have to recommend The Humans from Matt Haig. It feels a little like sci-fi, but it’s completely accessible and a great read.
Well, in August our whole staff [took] part in a rendition of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. We also have a bookseller, Warren, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of historical dates. (I put Warren to the test and discovered that my birthday, April 12th, was the date of the official start of the American Civil War in 1861, The Great Locomotive Chase in 1862, and David Letterman’s birthday in 1947.)
Is there a particular area of the store that seems to draw people in?
I think our store is really unique in the fact that each of our rooms has its own following. The ballroom is certainly a popular spot, but we have customers that run immediately to all different rooms.
What is the strangest thing that’s ever happened at Boulder Book Store?
We had a Tibetan monk come and perform a blessing on our store. As part of the blessing the monk threw rice along the floor and you can still find grains every now and then. We’ve also had plenty of weddings happen in our ballroom. Some of them are planned beforehand and some of them are more like guerrilla weddings where a few people sneak into the ballroom, get married, and head out before any of the staff knows what happened.
Next stop: Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado.
*Note: The Lucky Tour posts are not in real time. David and Lucky have returned from their travels with great tales and many, many books. Stay tuned for more road stories…