Storyteller bookstore closing after 30 years
By Lou Fancher
When the last book is sold and shelves at The Storyteller bookstore are laid bare, owner and founder Linda Higham will undertake her first feather-light relocation in 30 years.
Unlike the previous five moves -- to four locations in La Fiesta Square and two years ago, to a courtyard spot behind the city's Whole Foods Market -- this closing of the specialty children's bookstore she and Sharyn Larsen opened in 1985 will be final and box-free. A 40 percent off inventory sale is the last hurrah with all goods sold as-is.
The announcement caught some people by surprise, but Higham says her decision is well-thought out. It's not due to being forced out by high rent or the result of diminished sales. Instead, it's a move powered by the same muscle that drove her and a small cadre of librarians, teachers, grad students and book experts to place books into the hands of several generations of kids: It's a move about family.
"I'm 77 years old and I've no immediate family in the Bay Area. I have children and grandchildren I want to move closer to," Higham says. "My husband, Frank, passed in 2014. Afterwards, it was wonderful to have something I love everyday. When I got through that grief period, I reached the point where I knew I could give it up."
But it won't be easy, as favorite memories stir up tears and cause her to take a few deep breaths. Fortunately, Higham has an agenda.
"First, I'll replace my two knees, they're shot. I'm not a person who would enjoy bridge lunches on a repeat basis. I'll either get a job at a bookstore or volunteer in schools and libraries."
Customers, including Orinda resident Karlen Harriman, a retired schoolteacher, may not rebound as quickly. Harriman brought her two daughters, now 30 and 33, to the store on a weekly basis.
"We came from the very beginning. It was so wonderful that they would talk with the girls. Linda would always know the new book about horses or dinosaurs. I liked that they paid attention to the kids. As a teacher, it was so refreshing to walk into a store that really knew children's literature," she says.
Soon to become a grandmother, Harriman plans to stock up on books and store up memories of Storyteller's frequent author visits.
"Those memories you can't take away. Even today when I went in, Linda asked about the girls."
Higham says highlights surely include sold-out mega events, like when J.K. Rowling visited during a multiday celebration of the first Harry Potter book. But matching the right book to a child was "truly magical" and a summer reading program that stretched kids to read in five different genres was "forever fulfilling."
Local authors, including Bob Barner, Patricia Polacco (now in Michigan) and brother-duo Robert and Daniel San Souci provide cherished memories.
"The San Souci signing was at two o'clock," she recalls. "The bus pulled up -- not literally, but that's what we call a big turnout. They didn't go home until 7. It was like a family reunion. I felt like I should have served potato salad."
Chronicle Books children's book editor Melissa Manlove worked part-time at the store for 17 years and says in an email, "I'll miss the Storyteller immensely -- its staff was like family, and the chance to share books with kids was so rewarding, everyday. My job at Chronicle would not have happened if it were not for the Storyteller."
Manlove says business at the store is solid and she's hopeful another bookstore will come to Lafayette as the East Bay's new -- and only -- children's bookstore. She's not the only person harboring such a hope.
Higham says the community is devoted to reading and books. Partnering with the library and local schools for field trips and author visits has been a joy. She's not afraid to dream.
"I'd love if somebody would say, 'Oh, that bookstore has closed. I'd love to start a store in a community that loves books.'"