Brian Marin’s career has always centered on physical labor — car factories, greenhouses, carpentry — so owning a bookstore was not in his plans.
“Truthfully, I never really thought of a bookstore to be an option for what was going to be my career,” he said, “but I think what I’ve enjoyed most about it is that I love learning new things. And what better place to get an endless supply of new things every day than a bookstore?”
Now, as the owner of Westside Stories in Old Colorado City, Marin thrives in his book-centric environment. He spoke with the Business Journal about the challenges he’s faced, why his store holds its own against online behemoths like Amazon, and how he sees the future of Westside Stories.
Tell us why, after running the store for two years, you decided to buy it in January of 2020.
I started investing more and more of myself into the business. The previous owners, it … became a side project for them and one that they were growing more and more apart from, so I offered to buy it and run it with a new vision because I definitely saw a lot of potential in it.
What does that new vision look like?
Well, I would say that rather than being a used bookstore and kind of like an old, cozy like old-timey kind of library, I really wanted to change it into something [like a] hip, independent bookstore — a little bit more modern, I would say.
What has your experience been like in your first year, opening during COVID?
It definitely made things a lot harder, especially during the shutdown — you know, losing a month of revenue. But I created a website to be able to do curbside pickup and online sales and so far, the response to the bookstore and the changes in the bookstore have been phenomenal and exceeded all expectations. I don’t know whether or not that could be ascribed to people staying at home and reading more or the changes that I’ve made, but it has been beyond my wildest hopes.
What changes have you implemented since you’ve taken over the store?
Well it was a long process of renovating [and] rearranging. At one point, we were having the Arc and Goodwill trucks roll up every single week and I would hand them a dozen boxes of books that have been standing on our shelves a little bit too long. The curation is where I poured most of my time, energy and money. Just getting books that people wanted — because if I just relied on people bringing me all of the books I needed, I could’ve sold, you know, 100 copies of Dune in a year. But I [might have] only seen two used copies during the whole time.
Could you explain what curation means, in terms of books?
Sure, so there is definitely a business model of just taking in as many books as possible and selling … books as [fast as] possible. But what I really wanted to home in on is offering all of the most popular books — the classics, the staples, bestsellers, everything that people really, really were responding to. I just wanted to have the entire store have every book be the books that I wanted to sell and I knew I would sell.
What audience does Westside Stories cater to?
So, it’s been the younger generations that has [largely made up my audience]. You know statistically, the biggest book reading demographic is 65- to 75-year-olds, followed by 18- to 29-year-olds. … And especially with Millennials, I think something on the order of like 90 percent of them prefer print books over e-books, so I’ve been really trying to capitalize on the younger generation. [I focused on] really building the store to appeal to that kind of interest and demographic.
Why a bookstore?
Truthfully, I never really thought of a bookstore to be an option for what was going to be my career, but I think what I’ve enjoyed most about it is that I love learning new things. And what better place to get an endless supply of new things every day than a bookstore? My knowledge isn’t necessarily super deep. It’s deep on a couple of books, but I just love learning about all books. I want to build my brain like an encyclopedia, not a research paper.
What has your relationship with books been like throughout your life?
I’ve always torn through all of the books that were given to me as a young kid, but there came a point when I kind lost the love of reading through the books that were chosen for me for school. It wasn’t until maybe my early adulthood, when I picked it back up and realized that you can actually read things that you want to read. You know, not just stuffy old books written in the 1800s.
Are you interested in first-editions or collectible titles?
We do have a very large collection of rare and hundred-year-old books. … That’s definitely not my bread and butter. That’s not what I specialize in by any means — but definitely in the future, I am looking to have some kind of rare book website or webstore.
Do you enjoy writing books, as well as reading them?
Oh yeah! The thing I find about most voracious readers is that they also enjoy writing. I’ve always had it as a little side hobby. I’ve actually gotten offers to write for magazines, little, small publishing gigs, but it’s always been just for fun.
What sets your shop apart from massive, online sellers like Amazon?
Amazon is a huge problem just because it’s not that they’re doing what we’re doing, but better. It’s that they’re anticompetitive — because normally when a book sells, the bookstore gets a slice, the distributor [or] the warehouse gets a slice, and the publisher gets a slice. Well, Amazon gets the slice for distributing and the bookstore slice. … But I’m not too concerned with Amazon. It kind of is what it is. It is a fact of life. I’d just rather my store be judged on its own merit and I’m proud of the environment that we have built. I’m proud of the prices that we have.
I’m proud of the stock that we have. … I think one of the major attractive qualities about an independent bookstore is that it is one of the few places that you can shop for fun these days. Not too many people are going to the Walmart strictly for fun and bringing a date, but a bookstore, you can bring the family, you can bring friends, you can bring your grandma, you can bring your girlfriend. It’s just a very nice, wholesome place.
What are your hopes for the future of Westside Stories?
I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but I do have plans to grow and expand and reach more and more of the Springs, especially. [I want to create] reading areas and definitely expanding not only the selection but offering more gifts and stationery and art by local artists.
What else do you want us to know?
I’ll say this: There are definitely arguments to be made about why people should support their local economy, their local bookstore — but I really want to be judged based on the merit of the bookstore. … I don’t want [people] to feel obligated to support us. I do stand by my store and just hope people respond to that.