Orinda Books changes hands, but not heart
By Lou Fancher Correspondent
Like a precious heirloom, Orinda Books is passing from one member of a proprietary tribe to the next.
After 38 successful years, Janet Boreta, owner and one of the store's original founders, is handing over the keys to Maria and Danny Roden, of Orinda.
"I had a mother who read voraciously," Maria Roden said. "I'd come home from school and there'd be huge piles of books on either side of her. Unlike her, when I read a book, I always want to share it with somebody."
That communal urge explains much about why Roden would venture into independent bookstore ownership in a time when brick-and-mortar bookstores are a dying breed. As did Boreta, Roden too has a vision for enticing the area's "highly educated, literature-smart base."
Roden says her customers have Kindles, but they also have books. "They'd be mortified if we closed. I can tell them about books they'd never find on Amazon."
The Rodens are hardly new faces to Orinda Books customers. Maria worked in the store from 2007 to 2011, after graduating from Saint Mary's College in 2006 with a master's degree in creative writing. She and her husband, a former Chevron executive and now assistant track and cross country coach at Miramonte High School, are natives of England. They have raised their children in Orinda since moving to the United States in 1997.
After a brief stint devoted to writing and slightly more than a year working at Danville's Rakestraw Books, the 54-year-old mother of three and dynamo reader has
landed her plum possession.
"I asked Janet ages ago, when it came time for selling, could I please have first rights?" Roden said at the store on the day she and Danny took over.
Boreta, arriving to mark the occasion from her home in San Francisco, is immediately, and happily, interrupted by longtime customers stopping in to say their goodbyes.
"I've been coming here since its inception," said Nan Andrews, of Orinda. "Love and generosity of spirit and knowledge of books -- they offer their best to people. Coming here, I can support a worthwhile venture for enrichment of the community."
Boreta is as sentimental about books as are her customers. But she's also displayed a savvy stick-to-itiveness as a woman running a small business in an industry that has seen both stormy and stellar days.
"It's the community who supports bookstores," she says, brushing aside her own role, other than to say she's stubborn. "And I love the store and the staff. They really read books. We had book clubs from the beginning; that's been a mainstay."
She remembered author visits that provided valued memories and laughs. Before Dick Francis' outstanding visit in the early days -- people waited in a nearby tea shop and were brought in 25 at a time to get their books signed by the popular mystery writer -- there was a lesser-known local author.
"A funny man who drank a lot," Boreta recalls. "He arrived early and no one was here, so he left. After people arrived, I looked for him and found him in a local bar. I brought him back, but he didn't have much to say by then." More recently, a visit to the store from Abraham Verghese ("Cutting for Stone") parts the curtains to allow a rare glimpse into Boreta's personal past. "My parents were doctors and he had a message about caring for patients, so the book spoke to me. My grandfather was a collector of books and we had bookshelves all through the house. As a child, I read from room to room."
Danny Roden said the staff's customer service is essential, and that the store's large footprint is perfect for their ideas about increasing their community events. Roden plans to continue displaying local artists' work and to add book clubs for middle school students.
"We have a young worker who's mad for Shakespeare and will make it alive," she promises. "We're doing a salon in August to welcome back Saint Mary's students. I'm just up the road, so I can open up in the evening for things like wine talks, which are definitely on the horizon."
Harboring other dreams, Roden is an encyclopedia of ideas: perhaps becoming a pickup site for a local CSA, or adding "tastefully made dog toys, colorful garden trowels, baby shower gifts"--all items paired with accompanying, appropriate books.
Orinda resident Gloria Weston, a customer in the store to say both "goodbye" and "hello," says she's always been greeted with helpful, enthusiastic energy. "I want to keep them going. It's simple (to say) why: It's the place to come."