Chinook Bookshop Closing After 45 Years

Chinook Bookshop, a literary icon and downtown institution in Colorado Springs, Colo., will close its doors for good on June 15, 45 years to the day co-owners Dick and Judy Noyes opened the bookstore in 1959. According to Noyes, 74, he and his wife, "who is a lot younger" (72), are closing the store "because it's time to retire."

The store has long been famed for its well-trained, knowledgeable staff, its comprehensive selection of books and maps, and its expertise in fulfilling special orders for patrons. In 1975, Town & Country magazine called Chinook the "best bookshop in the USA."

The Noyes have also been deeply involved in the industry. Dick Noyes was a member of the American Booksellers Association board from 1966-1975 and was ABA president for two years, 1974-75. Judy Noyes used to write articles and book reviews for Publishers Weekly. "From day one, we've believed in quality; we've believed in excellence. We wanted to be the best bookstore in the country. We have strong views on quality. We want to go out when we're on top," Noyes told PW Daily.

The couple opened Chinook with $25,000 in capital, Noyes said. The store's inventory initially cost $18,000 and was housed in a 1,900-sq.-ft. space. Other than the two owners, there was only one-full time employee during the first year, when the Noyes grossed $60,000. Ten years later, they had sales of $500,000.

At its peak, about five years ago, the store carried 70,000-80,000 titles in an 8,300-sq.-ft. space, had 30 employees and sales of $2.5 million. But in recent years, Noyes said, the store was forced to downsize. "9/11, Enron, the economy--we had to cut back. We cut staff. In 45 years, we've never missed a payroll; we cut back on staff, inventory and advertising instead. "

The expansion of superstores in the '90s also affected the store's bottom line. Noyes noted that the store is "surrounded by chain bookstores now: there are three Borders and two Barnes & Nobles in town."

Chinook's inventory has dropped to about 45,000 titles and the store had sales of $1.5 million last year. Besides the two owners, there are 24 employees, many of whom have worked at Chinook for more than a decade. One current employee has been with the store for 34 years. Two just retired after than 37 and 33 years, respectively, working at the bookstore.

"Most of all, I'm going to miss the staff," Noyes commented. "We're very close. It sounds cute, but we're like a second family. I'll miss the customers, too. Some patrons first came in as kids; now they're in their 40s. I'll miss the staff first, the customers second. The secret to our success is the staff. We have no clerks at Chinook; we have professional booksellers."