From Boise

Bookstores of the Treasure Valley

Published 4 months ago • 9 min read

Hello my friends.

Today’s story is an ode to our local bookstores, written by Amanda Patchin. If you’ve been following the newsletter for awhile, you’ve read some of Amanda’s stories and you've likely gathered that Amanda loves to read. Often her stories are a reflection from a book she’s read. Recently she wrote this awesome story about embracing the winter season after reading the book Wintering by Katherine May. (A good reminder on a gray day like today.)

You can listen to me read this story on today's podcast episode. And if you enjoy this story, forward it to a friend. Enjoy!

Bookstores of the Treasure Valley

by Amanda Patchin

Bookstores. They are almost universally well-regarded as healthy members of a thriving community. Charming. Quaint. Warm. Personal. The local bookstore is highly valued in discourse, but very difficult to maintain profitably in reality. This I know from painful experience. In 2005 my husband and I bought a small used and rare bookshop. We ran it for three years, moving and expanding it in the second year. Unfortunately, our inexperience as business-people, combined with the economic tragedy of 2008, meant that we had to close it after losing a great deal of money.

We aren’t the only ones. Nationally the number of bookstores has declined by at least a third in the last ten years, and the Boise area has suffered even more dramatically. In the early 2000s you could shop for books at Hyde Park Books, Trip Taylor’s, Veritas (my bookshop), Barnes and Noble, Rainbow Books, Rediscovered, Bargain Books, several Hasting’s locations, Borders Bookshop, as well as Twice Sold Tales and The Yesteryear Shop in Nampa, and a few others with collections of paperbacks and piles of games.

Now The Treasure Valley has a mere handful. Rediscovered Books, Once and Future Books, Barnes and Noble, Half Price Books out in Meridian, Rubaiyat out in Caldwell, Bent Corners in West Boise, and the brand new Lit Room in Garden City. We are left with huge gaps. Hyde Park Books was dusty, overcrowded, and full of old books you would never think of without seeing them on those creaking shelves. Trip Taylor always had odd or unusual titles and he cared for them meticulously, using mylar jacket covers and impeccable taste to acquire the interesting and unique. Side by side the Nampa shops offered miles of shelves full to bursting so you could count on finding a classic in any genre or a bestseller from any decade.

Much of this loss is due to the advent of online shopping. Between the giant website that shall not be named, as well as Ebay, and Abebooks you can find millions of titles and have them delivered within the week. I’m not going to lament the internet here. It brings you this newsletter, a cornucopia of knowledge and entertainment, and actual books. I occasionally use the giant website to purchase a new book that I need extremely rapidly and I definitely use Ebay and Abebooks to find the unique, collectible and obscure things I find most fascinating.

Just this year I purchased a page from a medieval Book of Hours (see note 1), a page from an incunabula (see note 2), and a handmade, leather-bound, copy of L. M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle (see note 3).

Note 1: Book of Hours is a medieval devotional text. They were used especially by wealthy women and were usually small-scale, ornate, and heavily illustrated.
Note 2: An incunabula is a book from the first half-century of book printing. Gutenberg’s Bible, the first printed book, came off the press in the 1450s and all of the books printed between then and 1500 are “incunabula” or books from the infancy of printing. Of course there are many surviving books from before printing but they are all manuscripts: handwritten books.
Note 3: The Blue Castle is an early 20th century love story by the author of Anne of Green Gables. It follows an “old maid” who is fed up with propriety and oppression and starts to make scandalous choices like getting a job, helping a disgraced woman, and proposing to a man. Of course everything works out for her and it is an utterly charming story.

Prior to the advent of online shopping I wouldn’t have been able to obtain these at all without extensive and expensive travel.

However, as we have all heard many times before, this has made it much harder for local bookshops to survive and local bookshops absolutely provide things the internet never can: A real live human being to talk to about what you’re looking for. The opportunity to look at books you might like to read without the filter of an algorithm deciding if you ought to be interested or not. The precious aesthetic experience of holding books, thumbing through their pages, glancing at different paragraphs or illustrations. An atmosphere of learning, thinking, and exploration. Connection with other readers in a physical space. The human scale of life. Ideas bouncing around.

I love bookstores. Even ones that disappoint me with their limited selection, or with badly cared for books, or impossible hours. I still love them. Trying to run a bookstore left me exhausted and in debt, but they are still one of my favorite places. I love Powell’s and drive to Portland every year just to shop there and at some of the other fantastic Portland bookstores like Mother Foucault’s, Arches, and Chaparral Books. In every city or town that I visit, I search for bookstores and try to buy something at every single one. I sometimes joke that if you can’t sell me a book, you’re not trying. Books are the single largest budget item in my life, although coffee is a close second.

There was once a time when I would have considered Barnes and Noble one of the “bad guys.” Back in the days of You’ve Got Mail and plentiful local bookshops. Now, I want Barnes and Noble to succeed. To stay in business. To give me a place to browse shelves and peruse books. To keep improving. And they have been improving! In the last few years they have moved away from restrictive display policies and toward personalized displays and selections by individual booksellers.

I’m not a fan of the BookTok trends I see popping up, but obviously lots of others are. What I am a fan of is the way that the philosophy section, the Hardcover Science Fiction section, and all the various little subsections so often have something I haven’t heard of but am interested in. During my last trip to Barnes and Noble I picked up a biography of Denis Diderot, a poetry collection on impermanence and fragility, and a SF novel I hadn’t heard of but whose jacket invoked Susannah Clarke’s Piranesi (a favorite!).

Of course Rediscovered Books is a beloved local institution. Started up on the bench and then moved downtown, in some ways it is our only true local bookshop. They run author events, support local teachers, and provide a cozy place out of the rain for that classic bookstore browse. All the displays are unique and each bookseller is eager to offer suggestions or help.

Being a smaller shop there is only so much room on their shelves. They are also right in the middle of my weekly routine and so I stop by at least once per week, sometimes more, so I don’t always find a book to buy. I didn’t buy anything on my last trip in, although in the last few months I have bought Katherine May’s Wintering – which I reviewed here – as well as her second book Enchantment (also excellent). I snagged a copy of Around the World in 80 Trees for my husband recently, and am headed there today to pick up one last Christmas book for my nephew Silas.

Rediscovered’s sister shop, Once and Future Books, is full of used books. Used and rare books are my first love and so I am always eager to browse their shelves. The magic of used bookshops is how serendipity is multiplied among their shelves. Used bookshops sell whatever used books they can find that they think might be worth selling. The layers of uncertainty here means that you not only never know if you will find anything you might not know when you do. Sometimes the real surprise comes at home, when you open a used book that looks interesting to find that it is a signed copy, or that its previous owner was an ancestor of yours or someone famous, or that there is cash money in it. (These are all real things that have happened to Amanda!)

Once and Future Books has mostly paperbacks, where I prefer mostly hardcovers. Nevertheless on my last trip I found a slipcased set of Novel Prize-Winning Sigrid Undset’s Kristen Lavransdatter trilogy as well as the later 2 ⁄ 3 of B. Catling’s Vorrh Trilogy.

I don’t often go out to Meridian, but when I do, it is because I want to see if Half Price Books has anything interesting. Half Price is a chain of used bookshops based out of Dallas, Texas. Our local branch is on the small side, but given the dearth of local options, I will not be complaining. They often have unique vintage paperbacks – on my most recent trip I picked up a copy of Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics – and I regularly find classic Science Fiction that I have been meaning to buy but haven’t picked up yet. When they do have a rare or signed book, it is always reasonably priced.

I was delighted a few months ago while strolling through the Wintry Market to discover the existence of The Lit Room. It’s tiny, it’s new, it's in Garden City, and I haven’t bought anything there yet but I am eyeing The Future by Naomi Alderman.

I would be remiss not to mention the Friends of the Library bookstore that sits inside the downtown Library! location. A tiny space with a limited selection, it still manages to provide the community with a steady stream of used books while also providing financial support to the library itself. Additionally, the Friends of the Library also host two annual booksales where you can pick up a huge variety of popular books cheaply. It’s been a few years since I attended a sale, but I’ve often left with two or three bags full of books and only spent fifteen or twenty dollars.

I have also visited Rubaiyat once, while stranded in Caldwell with an injured friend who needed a driver, and I visited Bent Corners some years ago. Both offer plenty of genre fiction, children’s books, cookbooks, and games.

Given that Boise is continuing to grow, I believe we ought to be expanding our bookshop inventory each year. I suggest that some public benefactor take over the old Foothills School building on 8th Street between Fulton and River and turn it into a rambling bookstore like Powell’s City of Books in Portland. I also think that the big white house on Broadway (currently boarded up) should be a Rare Bookshop along the lines of Bauman Rare Books in Las Vegas or Argonaut in San Francisco.

The current location of Ochos Wine Bar (a good use of the space!) has always seemed to me to be an ideal potential bookstore, preferably one that specialized in the Humanities and hosted Socratic Circles and Latin Classes. I am happy to consult on any of these projects, would run one if someone else funded it, and will happily patronize ALL of them.

If you’re not the heir to a fortune or if you're not looking to improve the community by opening a bookshop or three, you can still do a good deal for the intellectual climate of our city. Read books. And then read more books. Read them in public sometimes. Suggest books to others, especially in live and in-person conversation. Buy books locally whenever possible. Sell or donate books to local used bookshops. Buy books as Christmas presents. Read to your children. Read to your friends. Read to your cat. And then read some more.

Bookstores of the Treasure Valley:

Thanks for reading!

With love from Boise,


This story was written by Amanda Patchin. Amanda has a monthly-ish newsletter where she shares her booklist, selections from her fiction, and updates on what books she has for sale in the Zed Bookshop.


From Boise

by Marissa Lovell

A weekly newsletter & podcast about what's going on in Boise, Idaho. Every week we share stories about people, places, history, and happenings in Boise.

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