Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe began in 1974 with the musings of a few parent volunteers hoping to connect a community of readers. Gayle Shanks was one of its founders and is currently a co-owner (with Cindy Dach and co-founder Bob Sommer). She talks about changes in the book-selling industry and why books matter.
Why start a bookstore?
We always thought from the very first day we opened the store that books brought people together: the ideas in books, the physical holding of the book, the idea of reading books to children. You start doing that when your kids are really young and it starts them having appreciation for the sound of words and storytelling. And we loved that idea [of opening a bookstore].
Compare the bookstore business at the time you opened the store to the present time.
It’s dramatically different and exactly the same. I think there’s no question that when we opened the store in 1974 there was no such thing as a big chain bookstore. I think Amazon.com alone has been the factor that changed the book business the most. In some ways it’s been really positive; it has encouraged people to read.
Now that eBooks are available on devices like the iPad and the Kindle, will future generations pick up books less often?
I was just reading that Scholastic [a children’s-only book publisher] is going to figure out a way to get eBooks for children. I just think that’s the wrong path. Not that I don’t think eBooks have a place in the market, but I think for a young child the idea that they’re touching a screen as opposed to touching a piece of paper and turning a page is really going to be a sad, sad part of our culture. I’m concerned about that.
What’s your opinion on why reading books to babies is so important?
We encourage new moms who come in and are pregnant to buy books for their babies and read to them while they’re in the womb. I think there is something about the parent’s voice that really does something to babies’ brains that nothing else can do.
Are some books better than others for young children?
When children start equating books with a sense of calmness and a sense of connection to the world, it’s really important what books are read. Not just any book. My children’s [books] buyer reads every picture book before she decides to buy it for the store. I think that’s really important because if a child gets turned off very early from books, they might not ever come back to them again.
How have you managed to survive while the big chains moved in?
Our store and other independent stores like ours have had to learn to be incredibly creative. We’ve sort of ingrained ourselves, I think, in the community itself and we have always donated to every charity. There’s not a church group, a school, a non-profit that has ever walked into the door of the store and asked for a gift certificate for a fundraiser that we haven’t said, “Oh sure, no problem. When is it? We’ll be happy to give it to you.” And that has always come back to us tenfold.
What’s emerged as your favorite thing about running Changing Hands?
It’s the people. It’s my staff. People who want to work in a bookstore are really amazing. They’re interesting; they’re creative. I’m always learning from them. The book industry is changing and transitions are often hard for people—the public and those people inside the industry itself. But I see a future for us, and I see a future for my young staff and I hope they’re going to want to sell books when they’re 60 as well.
This interview was first posted in October 2010 and was conducted by multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint.