It may seem impossible to those of us who browsed its bookshelves in the early days, but Bookshop Santa Cruz is 50 years old this year. Whether you were among the hundreds who helped carry boxes of books after the 1989 earthquake, or you brought your toddler to story time last week, you are part of a community woven deeply into the fabric of Bookshop’s celebrated history. Nobody knows this better than Casey Coonerty Protti, who grew up in her parents’ business and currently runs the bookstore. “We’re so excited about this anniversary,” she says. “I just want to take the time to stop and realize how significant it is. Every time I think about it, I realize how important being in Santa Cruz is and what Santa Cruz has done to help us reach this place.”
A blowout 50th birthday bash will be thrown on Nov. 4, with music, raffle prizes, a cake for each decade the store has been open, proclamations by the mayor, and even a congressional resolution by Sam Farr. Those who can’t make the party can still celebrate the next time they go to a local park, where they might sit down to read a book on one of three Artful Reading Benches that Bookshop has funded in parks around Santa Cruz as part of its 50th anniversary.
“You have to find the next generation of readers. We’re not going to give in to the sense that young people like their devices and grew up with iPads.” — Casey Coonerty Protti
“We wanted to create spots in local playgrounds for families to read together,” says Protti. The final bench by artist Terra Dawson will be dedicated in San Lorenzo Park on Oct. 25, but Protti knew she was on the right track by the time she arrived to dedicate the first bench by Bruce Harman in Grant Street Park—a grandmother was already there reading to her granddaughter with a pile of books on the bench. They knew nothing about the dedication, but the little girl lived nearby and had watched it being painted over several weeks. It had become her reading bench, and she reminded her grandma to bring books to read every time they went to the park.
Protti knows the importance of children when it comes to community bookselling. “You have to find the next generation of readers,” she says. “We’re not going to give in to the sense that young people like their devices and grew up with iPads. They do see the value of physical books and reading is very much promoted in schools, so it’s part of our mission.”
Studies support the notions that retention is higher with physical books and that kids prefer reading them. Reading physical books also makes kids more empathetic and mindful than electronic books, while reducing stress. “This is why we have the summer reading program, which every year is growing leaps and bounds, and the holiday drive where we donate books to the school libraries,” says Protti. “It’s why we bring in great authors like Grace Lin, who’s been shortlisted for the National Book Award, and role models like Carly Lloyd, the gold medalist. We’re trying to make it very real for kids, and they’re responding. We view it as the future of the store.”
These days, people are talking about the Renaissance of independent bookstores. After years of declining numbers and stores closing, there are actually more stores opening, but it’s their value to their communities that will determine their longevity. When it comes to Bookshop Santa Cruz, the community has been there all along.
“There are many bookstores that didn’t make it,” Protti says, “and we’ve gone through a lot of struggles to get to this point. The reason we’re still here is because our community supported us so much. We’re in this together.”
Bookshop 50th Anniversary Events
Sunday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m.: Panel discussion and launch party for Wallace Baine’s new book, A Light in the Midst of Darkness, a chronicle of Bookshop Santa Cruz’s 50-year history.
Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 11 a.m.: Dedication of the last Artful Reading Bench at San Lorenzo Park.
Friday, Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m.: Bookshop’s 50th Birthday Party: Music, cakes, proclamations, memories, prizes and more.
Nov. 4– 6: Bookshop’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Sale: 20 percent off storewide (Friday is a preview sale for Readers Club members only, Saturday and Sunday are public sales.)