Changing Hands Celebrates 35 Years
April 08, 2009
Tempe Arizona’s Changing Hands Bookstore invited customers to an all-day party on Saturday, April 4, to mark its 35th anniversary. The celebration featured face- and henna-painting, party hat making, tarot readings, and a visit from Newbery Award-winner Susan Patron (Lucky Breaks, Ginee Seo).
“We had a lovely 35th birthday celebration,” said Changing Hands co-owner and ABA president Gayle Shanks. “The store was filled with customers who all claimed to have been shopping at our store since day one, some of whom I recognized, and some for whom I think it was a figment of their imagination. But it was fun to have so many claim to have been shopping here since 1974.”
The best part of the day, Shanks said, was seeing people who’d come to Changing Hands when they were kids now bring their own children. “That really touched my heart,” she explained. “I saw a woman with her two young children, and I remembered when she was their age. Her kids were dancing with Peter Rabbit. I got so emotional. The tears were pouring…. It was really wonderful. It was quite a magical day.”
Changing Hands also hosted a bowling party with pizza and beer for store employees. “I just feel fortunate that we are blessed with brilliant, intelligent, creative booksellers who have latched onto what Changing Hands is all about, and who want to make it better all the time. People love interacting with them, and come back because of them.”
The bookstore, which turned 35 on April 1, was founded by Shanks; her husband, Bob Sommer; and a friend, Tom Brodersen, who eventually left the business. In 2008, Changing Hands general manager Cindy Dach became a co-owner of the store. “It was a momentous change for Changing Hands and a wonderful one,” said Shanks. “Working with Cindy has been pure pleasure.”
Once just 500 square feet and designed to be “a little, socially responsible bookstore and community gathering place,” Changing Hands is now a 13,000-square-foot, nationally recognized industry icon. With its core mission of community service always at the forefront, Changing Hands has been recognized with Publishers Weekly‘s 2007 Bookseller of the Year Award, the Charles S. Haslam Award for Excellence in Bookselling, and many other honors.
While its values have remained a constant, the reason Changing Hands has enjoyed three-and-a-half decades, and is weathering the current financial mayhem, boils down to business sense. “Sure its about the books, you have to have good books, and people who are excited about them, and people who read them,” said Shanks. “But you have to be doing the rest of the dance — figuring out ways to bring people into the store.”
One way of doing that, of course, is through events, and Shanks credits her staff with continually developing inventive, often authorless events. “The marketing department is doing a superb job,” she said. “They’ve invented bug and butterfly day, superhero day, princess day…. On Saturdays, in this down-turned economy, we’re still able to bring in 100 kids and their parents. The Saturdays ultimately help us make the numbers that we need for the week. Hopefully, the kids will go home with a bug catcher or a butterfly net or a book on identifying bugs in Arizona.” And, Shanks added, staff is no longer shy about explaining to customers that buying books at Changing Hands is what’s necessary to keep it in business and able to serve the community.
Like every other business in these tough economic times, Changing Hands is looking to trim fat. “One of the changes we’ve made this year is reducing the amount of inventory that we’re carrying,” Shanks explained. “We’ve removed bookshelves, and we’ve added tables and chairs. The customers haven’t noticed. I think they’re happy to have extra places to sit. We’ll probably keep as lean as we can into the foreseeable future until something turns around.”
Over the years, Changing Hands has received many expressions of appreciation from friends and neighbors, including some unusual forms of gratitude. “In one customer’s obituary it said that in lieu of flowers, people should make donations to Changing Hands,” said Shanks. With the $500 it received in donations, the bookstore set up a scholarship fund for employees to attend ABA’s Winter Institute and BookExpo America. The well-intentioned customer “just loved the store, and we had a great relationship. But this was a brand new one for us!” said Shanks. “He wanted to make sure that the store would be there for other people in the community.” —Karen Schechner