The signs went up on Wednesday at Trip Taylor Booksellers, announcing the end of yet another small business in Boise’s rapidly changing Downtown: “The Sinking Ship Sale! 75% off EVERYTHING.”
Just days earlier, a letter from the landlord was hand-delivered to the crowded shop, informing Henry Taylor III, aka Trip, that he must empty every crammed shelf, take down the poster from Frank Church’s 1968 U.S. Senate campaign, unplug the aging record player and close the doors by March 31.
“I spent a lot of time last year, mainly trying to keep it going, perhaps partnering with somebody or finding a buyer,” Taylor said Thursday afternoon, as customers streamed in, stunned, saddened and hunting for bargains. “There was a lot of interest, but none of it was nearly serious enough to actually make it happen.”
The 18-year-old cultural institution succumbed to a troubling Boise trend.
As Idaho’s center of population, politics and commerce grows, many beloved small businesses have shut their doors, victims of rising rents, changing tastes, increasing property values and burgeoning development.
“Another iconic Boise landmark is toppling,” said David Klinger, who has fought to save other local institutions. “They’re falling fast — Smoky Davis, several Downtown restaurants and breakfast places ... and now our town’s primary used bookshop.
“The reasons for closure are many,” Klinger said, “but one of the most common threads or explanations is rising commercial rents and the scarcity of places to move for small businesses that still want to remain in business. So they’re disappearing.”
First Seattle, then Hyde Park, now Downtown
Taylor, a 55-year-old former hotel desk clerk, opened his first bookstore in Seattle in 1995: Iconoclast Books, in the city’s Green Lake neighborhood. When he moved to Boise five years later, Trip Taylor Booksellers was born.
Its first location was the yellow Victorian in Hyde Park that’s now home to The Hyde House restaurant. In 2005, Trip Taylor Booksellers moved to its current location at 210 N. 10th St., where it will remain until the end of March.
Taylor said it’s possible the store could stay open until the middle of April. Then he will continue selling books online through AbeBooks.com and doing some writing. Beyond that, the future is unclear.
“It’s still just been too hard in general,” Taylor said. He said he’s been breaking even and not much more. “Last summer was really quite busy. I think we had so many people on the road; there were people here for the eclipse. I thought, ‘Well, maybe if it continues like this.’ But of course it didn’t into the fall. Everything just got harder again.
“I’ve just basically been here all the time lately,” he said. “At least I’ll have a little bit more freedom and space in my life. Other people always see me as the bookseller, but I like to think I have other possible contributions to make.”
Other Valley bookstores close
Trip Taylor Booksellers is not the only Treasure Valley independent bookstore to fall by the wayside in recent years. In 2016, Nampa lost The Book Exchange and Pearson’s Twice Sold Tales. Yesteryear Shoppe, also in Nampa, is in the process of closing.
“We’re on borrowed time,” said Yesteryear owner David Gonzales. “But I don’t have a deadline.”
National bookstore chains have struggled with Amazon’s ascent and traditional media’s decline. After a dismal holiday season, Barnes & Noble last month began laying off workers across the country, including several at its Boise store.
But independent bookstores across the country have made a comeback in recent years, according to the American Booksellers Association. The trade group showed a 35 percent jump in store numbers between 2009 and 2015, as reported by Ryan Raffaelli, an associate professor at Harvard Business School who has studied the industry.
The ABA keeps a list on its website of recent articles with happy headlines: “Local indie bookstores alive and kicking,” “How Did Independent Bookstores Avoid Going Extinct?” “Bravo for Books.”
Downtowns’s trio will become a duo
For many years, three very different bookstores have lived in harmony in Downtown Boise. Trip Taylor sells a wide collection of finer used tomes and is best known for literature, philosophy and art books. Rainbow Books at 1310 W. State St. offers a more mass-market selection. The Rediscovered Bookshop at 180 N. 8th St. sells mostly new books and recent releases.
“I’m heartbroken,” said Bruce DeLaney, who owns Rediscovered with his wife, Laura, and shops regularly at Trip Taylor. “We send people back and forth between our stores. It’s a loss for the reading community. We will miss having his store there.”
The DeLaneys opened Rediscovered on the Boise Bench in 2006 and moved the store Downtown several years later, when they felt they had learned the book-selling craft and were ready for the bigger stage.
“Boise has always had a great reading culture,” DeLaney said. “We saw the vibrancy of Downtown, and Trip Taylor has been part of that. ... This is something Boise is going to miss. I don’t see another bookstore like his opening up. I don’t see someone with his level of knowledge and his level of experience just appearing.”
Taylor said he’s been operating on a month-to-month lease. His rent had risen. As his business struggled, he grew tired. And then came the letter from his landlord, informing him that a new business had rented the store.
“The landlords did actually want to keep it going,” Taylor said. “And they were rather nice about it. But they found somebody who was willing to sign a longer-term lease, and that’s that. I can’t be too unhappy about it or feel as if I’m being wronged or anything. That’s definitely not the case.”
Customers mourn — and snap up bargains
His customers are a different story. On Thursday, a steady flow kept Taylor busy, as they mourned the store’s imminent passing, bought stacks of heavily discounted books, and looked for items they couldn’t find elsewhere.
One woman wanted astronaut biographies. Her husband was looking for something on Tom Mix, the big-hatted star of silent Western movies. A retired mechanic bought a stack of books on diners, muscle cars and photographing nudes.
A 20-something walked out with one of Taylor’s favorites, a copy of “In My Own Way: An Autobiography.” The memoir traces the journey of Alan Watt from a family of religious conservatives in rural England to fame interpreting Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.
And then there was Brian McCarthy, whose stack of art books covered erotica and Edgar Degas nudes and included a big, brown, antique medical text.
“It’s an old book about venereal disease,” McCarthy said. “And it’s illustrated.”
Sadly, the book was already promised to another customer. But that was not the only downer on this blustery afternoon.
“This is my favorite bookstore,” McCarthy said, chagrinned. “Sad story, eh? I’m a graphic designer over at Bittercreek (Alehouse), and I buy most of my resource and reference material over here. Architecture, design, stuff like this.”
Asked where he’d shop once Trip Taylor Booksellers shuts its doors, McCarthy paused.
“Rainbow,” he said. “I can usually dig up something there, but they don’t have the good stuff. Not Barnes & Noble.”
Taylor rang up McCarthy’s purchases and shook his head.
“There really is no other place like this, actually,” he said. “There just isn’t. Not in Boise. You’ll have to go online or to another town if you want a place like this.”