This week marks the prologue for Epilogue. Epilogue is a bookstore that opened Friday in the 800 block of Lincoln Avenue between Steamboat Shoe Market and the Franklin Mall. Owners Whitney Kaaz and Erica Fogue believe they can fill a niche in book retailing that wasn't available in Steamboat Springs before they opened their new shop.
The core of their business will be discounting books that have been returned to publishers by larger retailers. They promise to discount hardcover books by at least 50 percent in all but a few cases.
"The second (publishers) announce the release date for a paperback edition, they look at how many hardcover copies they have left in the warehouse," Fogue said. "That's where we come in."
Fogue said publishers know that as soon as a paperback comes out, the price they can command for the hardcover version of the same book drops precipitously. Sellers of "remainders," as they are known in the industry, can be scooped up at steep discounts. Other remainders become available because they failed to generate sufficient sales quickly enough to suit the dominant chain retailers in the industry. The window of opportunity tolerated by the industry giants is narrowing.
Fogue and Kaaz believe that trend creates an opportunity for independent booksellers.
Kaaz said she had definite ideas about the mood she wanted to create in Epilogue. The ambience could be described as "Victorian family moves into pioneer homestead."
The space is deep and narrow, and has rough-sawn planks on the floor and one wall. The two women have sought out antique furnishings and lamps, and Oriental rugs. There is a period couch and a rocking chair toward the rear of the store that invite browsers to get comfortable. Kaaz was so determined to avoid any modern touches that she went to great lengths to find a computerized cash register disguised in the shell of an old-fashioned model.
"Atmosphere was everything, because if we didn't have the right space, we couldn't do what we wanted to do," Kaaz said.
Kaaz and Fogue have hand picked all of their titles, based on a combined 14 years of experience, most of them in Steamboat. They know that the nature of their niche means customers aren't as likely to seek them out for a specific title as they are to come in and browse. The period furnishings are meant to be conducive to browsing.
In addition to remainders, Epilogue will sell a selection of used books specifically sought out by the store owners. They will also search for out-of-print books on behalf of customers. At this time, they aren't soliciting used books from customers unless they are "antiquarian" titles -- roughly older than 100 years, or collectible.
Fogue also promises to stock hard-to-find magazines and political journals. Epilogue will be the first local retailer to carry the political satire paper, "the Onion."
In order to broaden their base, Kaaz and Fogue will sell a carefully selected line of gift items and jewelry, all from a growing segment known as "fair market."
Fair market isn't a particularly descriptive term for items that could be described as "gifts for the environmentally and socially conscientious." The manufacture of the products is certified not to have harmed the environment. And conditions for the workers are fair, Fogue said.
Fogue has teamed with employee Summer Laws to track down the gift items offered at Epilogue
Examples include the "Cloud Forest" candles from Guatemala. Indigenous Q'eqchi women make them from the waxy seeds of the Arrayan tree. The seeds can be collected without harming the tree. The sale of the candles provides hard currency to people who otherwise depend upon subsistence farming, according to the nonprofit Proyecto Eco Quetzal, which oversees the manufacture of the candles. Epilogue will also carry Phat Frames, manufactured by at-risk teenagers in New Mexico from reclaimed and salvaged wood.
"Our books are cheap but our side lines are expensive because we wanted to give the community gifts that have a story behind them," Kaaz said.
Epilogue also will offer customers self-help organic coffee and tea on the honor system.
Kaaz and Fogue are aware that they are assuming a certain amount of risk by attempting to sell remaindered books in the high-rent district on Lincoln Avenue. However, they have prepared a business plan and they ran it buy Scott Ford of the Small Business Development Center at Colorado Mountain College.
"Our rent is crazy and Scott was really concerned about it," Kaaz acknowledged. "In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to depend on tourists. We would have bought an old house off the main street and hoped locals would find us. But this is where we live."
Ultimately, Ford gave the two businesswomen the vote of confidence they needed to believe their business plan is viable, Kaaz said.