A cursory search into the history of bookselling in Bishop reveals local proprietors began making room on their shelves for literary merchandise in 1933.
A photo from this milestone year for bookworms across the Owens Valley shows the former bank building at the corner of Main and West Line streets – now the home of Mountain Light Gallery – subdivided into three storefronts, one of which is a bookstore.
Pinyon Books entered the scene in 1960, followed 10 years later by Patricia Rowbottom and Dorcas Birchum’s Spellbinder Books, now located right next door to that original bank building.
The storefront at 124 S. Main St. is actually Spellbinder’s fourth location, according to Lynne Almeida, who not only celebrated 10 years as owner on Nov. 1, but has also been spearheading a year-long 40th anniversary Spellbinder celebration since January.
Monthly in-store, customer-appreciation drawings will continue through December, and helped set the stage for last Saturday’s 1970s-themed party replete with a costume contest, karaoke and music, and snacks and beverages appropriate for the time period.
Almeida, who was 2 years old in 1970, admitted to being a little uncertain about the party’s ability to capture the authenticity of the “Me Decade.”
But the event was a blast, nevertheless.
“It went really well – it was very fun,” she said. “We probably had about 40 people, and a bunch of them participated in our goofy costume contest. It was very silly and fun.”
Most importantly, the party gave Spellbinder yet another chance to show its appreciation to the community that helps keep its doors open in an era when independent book sellers are going the way of the Dodo bird at a rapid rate.
And for the most part, the appreciation is mutual.
“I sure love having Spellbinder there in town, and the best way to ensure it stays there is to support them,” said Eric Blehm, author of “The Last Season” and “The Only Thing Worth Dying For,” and a frequent guest at in-store book-signings. “I’m partial, being a writer, but I always think a good book store is crucial to the personality of a town, and Spellbinder certainly represents Bishop.”
Blehm certainly isn’t alone in his praise, shared throughout the Owens Valley and, apparently, Northern California.
As if marking four decades of success weren’t reason enough to celebrate, the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association recently awarded Spellbinder Books with the prestigious Debi Echlin Memorial Award for Outstanding Community Bookstore.
According to Almeida, the award is given annually at the NCIBA’s regional trade show in memory of Debi Echlin, the owner of A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, who died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2005.
The NCIBA reserves the award for local, independent book stores who demonstrate strong community involvement – who, essentially, make their communities better places.
Almeida was notified of the award about a month ago via phone by NCIBA Board Member John Russell, who basically told the shocked store owner she had better plan on attending the ceremony – Almeida hadn’t been – because Spellbinder won the Debi Echlin Memorial Award for Outstanding Community Bookstore.
“I was totally surprised,” Almeida said, and even though she was organizing a free concert at her store that weekend, she realized the honor is the highest recognition the store can receive from its peer group.
So she decided to make the drive to the Bay Area to receive the commemorative plaque in person.
Not only is the award a validation of the hard work Almeida and her small staff invest in ensuring Spellbinder fulfills the needs of local shoppers and is responsive to change and community need, but also the support the community has for its local bookstore.
“This award shows what independent book stores are really all about through community involvement,” she said.
Almeida added that despite economic challenges, the long hours and heavy workload, “it’s a fun job and a rewarding job.”
And the community support makes it all worthwhile. “We can’t be a good community book store without a good community.”
Next on Spellbinder’s itinerary is a celebration of Children’s Book Week, Nov. 14-20.
The observance will include a story contest open to all youth ages 2-18 who illustrate in words or pictures a theme close to Spellbinder’s heart: Community.
Spellbinder Books will donate $1 in book credit to the classroom of every participant for every story entered.
Here are the rules:
• Anyone age 2 – 18 can enter by simply turning in a story that illustrates in words, pictures, or both the above theme to Spellbinder Books between Nov. 14-20. (Stories must be turned in by 6 p.m. on the 20th)
• “Pre-literate” children may dictate their stories to an adult assistant.
• Participants can turn in up to one story a day.
• Stories can be written/illustrated at home, or in the store with the supplies provided.
• Each story MUST have the author’s name and phone number on the front cover and if the child is in school, the child’s school and teacher.
• Written stories can be no more than three pages in length.
• Illustrated stories can be no more than 10 pages in length.
• Prizes will be awarded in four age levels: preschool, elementary school, middle school and high school.
• For further information, contact Lynne or Genevieve at Spellbinder Books at (760) 873-4511.
For more information about Spellbinder or other upcoming events, visit the store online at www.spellbinderbookstore.com .