Today's guest on Dock Talk is Carol Dunn, owner of Northwind Book and Fiber, located on Walnut Street in Spooner. While I'm having a cup of the Dock Coffee's house blend coffee, Carol is having a cup of freshly brewed Evening in Missoula tea.
Carol was born in Elgin, Illinois and moved to Spooner in 1991 with her DNR husband. Along with raising their kids, she also worked part-time at the Northwind bookstore for ten years. The store was originally opened in 1993 by Norm and Alene Peterson, who moved it across the street seven years later to its current larger location in 2000. Seven years later, in 2007, Carol and her husband bought the business and she's run it ever since.
Carol, I hear you're an avid reader. What kind of books appeal to you personally?
I read more fiction than non-fiction. I love good characters and a story. My favorite way to learn about a culture or history is in a novel.
How do you choose the books you're going to carry in your store and if you had to ballpark the number of titles you carry at any given time, what would that number be?
We have about 13,000 titles in the store in all categories. I order direct from publishers for most books, using online or paper catalogs and rely on the sales reps to let me know about books they think will do well. I want to have a book in stock if it starts getting a lot of press. There are certain authors that I always buy, then there are books I think will appeal to our customers. Years of experience make this a little easier for me. There's also a certain amount of serendipity--something strikes me as appealing about a new book - maybe the cover, the description, the early reviews.
You also have a large section of books for children. What is the youngest age child you have books for?
Our children's books are of course very popular. We carry books for all ages--from babies to teenagers.
You also carry games and educational toys, jigsaw puzzles and commercial cards, why?
These have all been great additions to the store. I wanted to add lines that complemented books, appealed to our customers, and didn't duplicate things carried by other stores in Spooner. We have plush toys of book characters, as well as games based on book series. Puzzles do well at the store, from very simple wooden puzzles for toddlers all the way up to 2000 piece jigsaw puzzles. Board games have been big sellers, too, which is fun to see in this era of screen time. I think families at their cabins are looking for things to do where they can engage with each other. And some of the best games for us have been customer suggestions. Also surprising has been how well greeting cards do, since the assumption is that everyone is texting or emailing. In addition to the cards by local artists, I've brought in a half dozen lines of greeting cards.
You not only carry books in your store but audiobooks and e-books through your website, www.northwinbook.com Just how does that work?
In both cases, we've partnered with businesses through the American Booksellers' Association, and both audios and eBooks can be accessed through our website www.northwinbook.com. By clicking the link for audiobooks, a customer will be taken to libro.fm, and if they set up an account through that link, it will be associated with Northwind, which will receive a portion of the purchase. The first book is 99 cents, and then there is a membership program that works like another well-known audio service (but this one is run by a small company in Seattle just for independent bookstores!).
For e-books, customers can sign up through our website for kobo books. These can be read on any device, using a kobo app (except for kindles, which Amazon designed to be used only with their books).
In the back part of your store, you carry a gallery of local art and jewelry. What all do you feature there?
Alene, the original owner of the store, started the consignment gallery when we moved into this much larger space in 2000 (we were originally in the store that is now the Tattoo parlor). Currently, I have jewelry, weaving, felted mittens, & other fiber items, wooden bowls, pottery, soap, paintings, photos, prints, and more.
You also have a large area for yarn. What kinds of yarn do you carry?
What surprises people is that we are a full yarn shop, not just a store with a small selection of yarn. We carry all types of fiber--wool, acrylic blends, alpaca, cotton and more in all weights from lace to sock to super bulky. We have complete lines of knitting needles, crochet hooks, and accessories, as well as a great selection of patterns and craft books.
Your store always seems to be busy with classes in the back. What kind of classes do you hold?
We run regular knitting and crocheting classes year round, as well as a monthly creative journaling class. In addition, we have groups that meet weekly or monthly--2 knitting, 1 crochet, 1 weaving, and 1 artists' critique group. Information on all can be found on the classes page on our website (https://www.northwindbook.com/classes-groups)
Any book clubs meet there?
We do currently have one group meeting here, which is run by one of the booksellers. They meet from October into June, every other Saturday. Anyone is welcome to join. Information can be found here-- https://www.northwindbook.com/eat-and-read-book-club
Since everyone seems to be a writer these days, what does a regional author have to do to get their book in at Northwind?
If an author has a tie to the region, I will consider taking their book in on consignment. They need to contact me and fill out a contract.
How about book signings?
Because our region has such a small population, book signings are not always well-attended. If an author has a tie to the region, and therefore has a built-in audience, or if they are a well-known author, we can consider setting up a reading and signing. Many authors choose to just do a signing on a busier day of the year in order to get exposure.
Before we let you go, there is one more question. Why are the independent bookstores becoming so popular?
Before I answer your particular question, I think I should talk about how difficult it has been for bookstores over the last 20 to 30 years! Barnes & Noble and Borders were the first problem for small bookstores--remember "You've Got Mail"? (although we were lucky not to have one close by). Then big box stores like Walmart started carrying books--generally just the most popular books, which they discounted deeply as a loss leader. Amazon is the giant that has had the biggest impact on bookstores, which were the first stores they took on (and now all retail). Finally, eBooks took off bigger and faster than anyone predicted, so we were worried that physical books were headed the way of 8-tracks & VHS tapes.
Happily, we are still here and continuing to grow, and bookstores nationwide are experiencing a renaissance. I think this can be attributed to the strong shop local movement and to many readers deciding they do not want to read books on yet another screen. I think bookstore managers have also had to get much smarter as business people. We have to manage our inventories better, and we are helped in this by positive changes in publishing and distribution. We also have to run a leaner business than bookstores probably did 50 years ago, when they were the only source to purchase a book.
Now, what are your hours and your contact information?
We are open 9 to 5:30 Monday to Friday; 9 to 5 on Saturday; and on Sundays from May to December from 11 to 3.
- Phone: 715-635-6811
- Website: firstname.lastname@example.org