Offering a Word to the ‘Smiths.

On March 2nd, 2009, the first few whispers reached the blogs that Wordsmiths Books was closed.  No big farewell, no sell-down to a final closing date, nothing more than a note in the window baring a simple message:

I’ve pondered how to start this, but this is the best I can come up with. There is no great way to begin the end of a dream, and there is no gentle way to state that finality is upon you. That said, I regret to announce that, as of Monday, March 2nd, 2009, Wordsmiths Books will close its doors for good. I don’t do this willingly, and I would love to say that there were avenues of exploration yet to wander, possibilities that could avert this outcome, but that would be untruthful. I have explored every possibility open to me, but the sheer magnitude of the decline in sales alone (on the heels of our efforts to right the boat) from our current economic downturn has long since evaporated the fumes. Frankly put, there’s nothing left to make the engine go, and sitting on the side of the road with a thumb out doesn’t seem to earn you much grace as a business…

It’s been two years since I walked away from that store, and it still feels like a lost loved one.  Sure, pieces of it remain. I have the wonderful family of booksellers who worked for me, who remain in contact still; there are reminders fairly frequently from our customers who miss our events; there’s the clever little ghost that houses itself in Foursquare’s platform (I don’t know who did it, but thanks, and everyone else, do feel free to check in when your on the Square); and, of course, there exists a mountain of photos that remind me daily of the days spent toiling for my dream.

 

Photos Like This

It’s a mixture of sadness, and gratitude.  A blend of emptiness and completion.  I look at those pictures, and I wish Wordsmiths Books was still there, and I wish my family was still intact, and yet, we’ve all moved on to bigger and better things.  It has often struck me that we were brought together for a reason, and for a short time were allowed to share in this experience and carry it forward.  Then again, that could just be me.  I couldn’t have been blessed with a better group of people to spend my time with, and I remain thankful every day that they were in my life.  I’ve spent the past few days on Facebook thanking each of them individually, and I still feel I haven’t done it justice.

There are scores of others who were involved, in one way or another, with Wordsmiths, and I know that any attempt to thank them all would be futile, due to the fact that I am purely incapable of remembering what I had for breakfast, much less such a lengthy list of names.  So, naturally, I’ll do it any way, with apologies to anyone I forget.  To Collin Kelley (for his fab poetry events), Laurel Snyder (finalist for the E.B White Read Aloud Award!!!!), Wayne Fishell & Big Peaches (who gave us our soul Debby Harry style), Julia Carrol & Amy Lashley (for being the best cheerleaders/folk duo we could have asked for), Chris Warner (for his awesome sign), David L. Robbins (for his many contributions that stand as tall as he is, as well as for being a loyal and dedicated friend), Jim & Jessie Mundy (for the signed, framed, Wordsmiths Bag, from opening night), to The Georgia Center for the Book (for your support and trust), to Jennifer Brett (for your unbiased, fact-based story on the store’s closing), and to the many, many people who shopped our store, attended our events, and extended their hand when we called out for help, thank you.  There is no measure of words that truly sums up my gratitude.

If you’re up for browsing through it, here’s the original blog for Wordsmiths, during the 6-month run-up to the opening in June 2007.

It wasn’t ever easy, but when is owning a business ever?  I made mistakes in the process of opening that eventually haunted the store.  I made the decision in August 2008 to ask the public for help, for a business that had not even been open two years, and scores of people responded.  It was an emotional time, and to this day I still get choked up thinking about the overwhelming support we received.  The link to the blog above, the one detailing the store’s closing, is littered with comments that I didn’t read until last year’s anniversary that detail the belief that I did this knowing that the store was going to close (an opinion shared my by ex-mother-in-law, I regretfully recall now. Joy, there.).  That I willingly, and deceitfully, took money in order to simply buy me time.  There’s no point in arguing with fools, but I would like to say that I do not quit on anything unless it is beaten and dead (and even then I do it reluctantly), and I do not look someone in the eye and willingly lie in order to spare myself.  Wordsmiths was not dead (beaten maybe) until the economy bottomed out in October of that same year.  At that point we were turning in the right direction, slowly, like a ship turning against the storm.  But when people stopped shopping (in general) and put a cap on Christmas for 2008, we were toast.  And we weren’t alone.  Closing Wordsmiths remains one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Saying goodbye to my family was excruciating.  The image of walking away, turning the key one last time, and driving off (albeit in a very beautiful snowfall that I will always link with a sign of cleansing, and a new beginning) is forever imprinted on my mind.  The fact that the year following left me in a state of financial hardship like I’ve never known, had me contemplating my life’s choices, and ultimately contributed to the end of a marriage, does nothing at all to reduce the power and wonder of the Wordsmiths experience.  I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

And maybe someday, I will.

Wordsmiths Books was nearly everything I dreamed it to be, and I still believe that it lives and breathes in the memories of those who shared in it.  And on March 2nd of every year that I am blessed enough to live, I will raise a glass to its memory, to all that it offered me, and salute.  R.I.P to my little bookstore child.

3 thoughts on “Offering a Word to the ‘Smiths.

  1. Thanks- I feel the same way..except for the doing it again part. I don’t think I could ever embrace it the same way again. Sometimes I feel like it was a battle between good and evil and good lost. I’m glad you understand. It’s not as bad as losing a family member or friend, but it is horrifically painful. I’m glad you got to end on your own terms. Your resilience makes me proud and gives me hope!

  2. Thank you for the journey back, Zach. Many (most?) folks go through life without realizing their dreams, either giving up or never trying. You not only brought your own dream to fruition, you helped create and recreate daily dreams for others. You gave us more than a candy store for adults; you gave us hope and a reminder that the world is a pretty darn wonderful place. You gave tremendously to a community that did not always reward you reciprocally. You made the seemingly impossible a beautiful reality. Thank you for the concentrated memories that will last a lifetime. Success isn’t money in the bank; it’s pure heart and soul. That was Wordsmiths. Heck, that still IS Wordsmiths. True love. Priceless vision. The store that everyone else wants to be when they grow up to be real.

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