ADDRESS: 227 SW 2nd St, Corvallis, OR
OWNERS: Jack Wolcott & Sandy Smith
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 41
WHAT THEY SELL: A wide selection of new books ranging from good literature to children’s books, from practical skills to spiritual guidance, and quality non-fiction. Music, too!
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: This is a booklover’s bookstore, run by people who are passionate about books and who generously share their passion with readers of all ages.
Jack, how did you get started? I was helping to get the [First Alternative] Co-op started when I realized there was no local source for information on food growing or preparation. We opened the bookstore to improve the quality of people’s lives and the environment. Our inventory is driven by our customers’ needs, so over the years, fiction and non-fiction books have become more important than practical skills publications.
Why should folks patronize your business? We are a generational bookstore in that we are now selling books to the children of our first customers’ children! We are passionate about what we carry and try to make the best match possible to meet people’s needs. It is a huge responsibility to have such an impact on people’s lives, and we are grateful for the experience.
What do you feel is the impact of local independent businesses on Corvallis? Independent businesses are the soul and personality of the community. We are here because we want to be, not to make money. Independent business owners choose to come to work every day! I feel that we are fighting the good fight. We don’t do it to win, and we don’t quit if we are losing. We strive to make a difference every day, and we see it in our customers’ eyes. The impact depends on the degree to which customers understand the importance of local businesses. We appreciate CIBA for spreading the message so the public understands. We started CIBA to educate our customers on the outcomes of their buying decisions. We don’t tell them what to do, but we educate them and let them make good choices.
How important is sustainability to your business? We all value sustainability at Grass Roots. It defines us as an independent bookstore and influences all our decisions. We work hard to recycle and purchase Blue Sky renewable energy, of course, but it goes deeper than that. We don’t carry titles just because they are bestsellers or are promoted as media darlings. We look for quality books of timeless value that people will share with their family and friends, reaching more than one reader. Unlike e-books, which can be purchased and consumed without human contact, buying real books is a social experience. People come to the store and have conversations about books. No two people read a book the same way. Personal experience colors their reading. These social connections are a big part of the health of the community. My hope is that by providing a positive experience at Grass Roots, my customers will be more willing to patronize other local businesses too, strengthening our local connectedness through cumulative positive experience.
What challenges have you faced as an independent bookstore? E-readers and pre-priced printed books have impacted the industry. Traditional editing skills are going away, and predatory pricing may force small publishers out of business. I am concerned that first time authors may have difficulty getting published. Grass Roots wants to be where people are looking for books, however, so we have worked with the National Booksellers Association to offer the KOBO e-reader and their extensive catalog of e-books to our customers.
Are there other ways you contribute to the community? Besides being a founding member of CIBA, we support anything that promotes literacy, especially for children, including SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) and local schools and libraries. I have served on the board of the DCA [Downtown Corvallis Association] and was involved in revitalizing the Oddfellows Hall in the mid-seventies.
(Interview and article by Kate Lindburg – December 16, 2012)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Community Independent Business Alliance (CIBA).