Facing an uncertain future

Employees struggle to save Off the Beaten Path Bookstore

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Jim Barker, left, and his mother, Gin, enjoy lunch at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday afternoon.

Kathy Cox calls Off the Beaten Path Bookstore her "hub" in Steamboat Springs.

Cox and her sixth-grade daughter live 12 miles outside of town, near Creek Ranch. But the two frequently visit their self-described "after-school stomping ground" to grab a snack and recharge before extracurricular activities. It's also where Cox meets with friends or grabs coffee and a bagel after dropping her daughter off at school.

But unless owners Dick and Leslie Ryan can find a buyer for their business soon, Off the Beaten Path Bookstore could close as soon as January.

Both the business and its building on Seventh Street were listed for sale in July. Although the structure sold quickly, the future of the business remains up in the air, Dick Ryan said.

He and his wife moved to Steamboat in 1988 to run their bookstore, which has been operating in its current location since 1990. But this week, Dick Ryan said "it's simply time to move on."

After nearly 20 years in operation, moving on will not come easy.

"It's kind of like giving up your kids to college," he said. "We have a lot of emotional investment."

The Ryans said a number of individual buyers and families have expressed interest in taking over Off the Beaten Path, but Dick Ryan said offers have been too low to accept.

His hope was to find a new owner who would continue operating Off the Beaten Path as locals know it today, but the Ryans have reluctantly had to discuss the possibility of closing.

"There's always the distinct possibility that we'll have to close the doors and liquidate," Dick Ryan said.

Closing is not an option that Off the Beaten Path's employees are willing to take sitting down. Several staff members have banded together to try to buy the business themselves and keep it open.

"All we know is we don't want it to close," said Carol Forney, a bookkeeper at Off the Beaten Path. "We love it, the community loves it, and it would break the community's heart to see it close."

Regulars at Off the Beaten Path are not just bookworms - they include couples who come in every day and do crossword puzzles and kids who work on homework after school, Forney said.

But employees don't have enough funds to buy the business outright, and they are looking for financiers or silent partners to bolster their offer.

"We felt it was way too important to the community to let this little gathering place go without any fight to save it," Forney said.

- To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203

or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

wannabeBOATresident 6 years, 6 months ago

Many people would jump at the chance to have a thriving business in Steamboat. But PT22 probably hit it right on the nose. Maybe Steamboat can lure a Barnes and Noble or Borders... There is a reason why they are doing well all over the US.

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steamvent 6 years, 6 months ago

Don't know about you, but I AM contributing to the new library ... it's called taxes.

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wissbecklarry 6 years, 6 months ago

Say goodbye. Love will not compensate for exhorbitant rent, low profit margins, Amazon.com, discounted books at WalMart and a whole generation of people who haven't read a book since Al Gore invented the internet. Contribute to the new Library in lieu of flowers.

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stmbtgrl20 6 years, 6 months ago

Off the Beaten Path is a staple in the community. Are we willing to see our town turned into another Aspen? That was my stomping ground growing up in Steamboat, and I would hate to see it torn down and made into another "Barnes and Noble." There is something to be said about Mom and Pop shops. Off the Beaten Path has never lost its luster. Every time you walk in to the store, you are greeted warmly by its employees. Every time you order a coffee or a lunch, you get nothing but the best. They care about their customers. Do you think a chain bookstore would? SAVE OFF THE BEATEN PATH!

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Neil O'Keeffe 6 years, 6 months ago

The moment the building was sold without the business it's future was doomed. Who could expect the new owner to keep rents low after paying what I'm sure was an exorbidant price for the building. If the Ryan's really wanted to keep the business going they would not have sold the building separately. But who can blame them, it is surely a sign of things to come. Personally I wouldn't mind seeing a Borders, and why not use that $11 million dollar fantabulous library for all of our reading needs? Latte anyone? Believe!

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kitkat00 6 years, 6 months ago

It's very sad to read some of these comments. A Border's? Barnes and Noble? These ideas coming from the town that fought Wal-mart tooth and claw? The town that petitioned a Walgreen's would like to see a chain bookstore come to town? That would certainly bring ambiance. Let's try and remember what downtown is about- supporting locally owned businesses.

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ColoradoNative 6 years, 6 months ago

I don't know the circumstances behind the business closing but it if was a "cash cow" I doubt they would sell it. Also if it was profitable someone else would buy it.

The reality is people are buying books elsewhere.

I wonder how much money Steamboat money is heading to the vail valley's home depot and Costco now.

Boy wouldn't city council love to spend all that tax money! It makes no sense to me about this formula store BS.

Consumers are going to find the best deals they can and in the book business it's online or at Barnes and noble.

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momofthree 6 years, 6 months ago

stmbtgrl20: aspen has a great independent bookstore, called Explorer, right on main street. i've never understood why so many people in steamboat bemoan aspenization--aspen is a beautiful town (much nicer to walk than steamboat) with a variety of stores and restaurants, some chains, some (many) local.

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elphaba 6 years, 6 months ago

No one has mentioned the huge increase in taxes if the rec center passes on a commercial propety. How could any small business survive that?

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Zoro 6 years, 6 months ago

First, for momofthree: the "great independent bookstore" in Aspen in fact was bought recently by a Texas billionaire, who although he had significant political differences with the bookstore owners' politics, bought it precisely to save the character and charm that only independent bookstores can provide (see recent article in the Wall Street Journal). It was also for sale, and he did not want to see it become a Barnes and Noble or Borders. Second, what makes Steamboat a special place to live is, in part, the local character and flavor of all of its independent stores. OTBP is not just a great bookstore; it is one of the centers of true Steamboat community life. It has what we need: character not "luster." It is a place where people meet to have coffee, to surf the internet, to browse for books, and to just to talk to each other. There simply is no other place like it in this town (the other night over 50 people came to hear author Hampton Sides speak about his recent books). Third, it is not clear the town could support a Borders or B&N, and even if it could, I am not sure why that would make people happy (end user pricing is not significantly different than pricing at independent bookstores except for select books used as loss leaders). The loss of independent stores -- not just independent bookstores -- is a loss to the community. But for a couple of mountains, nothing much will soon distinguish Steamboat from Spring, Texas or Anywhere, Any State.

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jlkar 6 years, 6 months ago

Zoro- you're correct, it is hard losing local lore but this town is growing and people are greedy. I know it is an ugly word. But if all the town really wanted was local flare, we wouldn't have river walk (and all the others), wouldn't be tearing down the Tugboat, Sunpies; building new "justice" centers, community & recreation big boxes. SORRY but none of the new developements (except for the library-even though I liked the old one) are because the LOCALS have grown in numbers so large that we NEED them. Do the locals need riverwalk? Real locals with flare workout in the cold rain and snow. Locals with money "NEED" a rec center so they can wear their designer outfits at the gym and talk about how we really need a whole foods next, and it will be bamboo that was a cute little local hub but I want more. But what should we do? Call us to action Zoro.

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OnTheBusGus 6 years, 6 months ago

The difference between Aspen and Steamboat Springs is that Aspenites enjoy their unique small town and try to use their money (if they have it) to give back to preserve that small town. The wealthy in Steamboat don't share all that well. Zoro brings up a great example of that and I recall when I visited in Aspen how a local told me that a wealthy resident noticed the unsightly and unsafe fence around the school and decided to take it upon himself to provide funding for a prettier, safer fence. I think there are other instances but I can't remember any right now, but my friend who lived in Aspen said that the wealthy used to provide a lot of things to keep Aspen the quaint, small mountain town that it is. That probably won't happen around here in soon to be anytown...

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Neil O'Keeffe 6 years, 6 months ago

Economics 101, if a business can not control its costs (rent, payroll etc.) how can it stay in business. With this current real estate boom and the rise of property prices the only businesses that will be able to afford the rent are the national chains. It's a sad but true fact of life. Maybe we can get our local tax dollars to fund small business viability, why not it's going everywhere else. After all remember the bumpersticker "Gotta be pretty to live in the city" these words are more and more true every day. Believe!

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Zoro 6 years, 6 months ago

It is about economics, but the economics are driven by the community and the support it is willing to give. Interestingly, Austin, Texas has one of the most successful independent bookstores in the country. Austin proper also has no chain bookstores (and actually very few chain stores of any kind) even though it's a relatively large city and experiencing the same kind of property / real estate boom we are. Why? Because people who live in Austin value independent stores and desparately want to maintain the character of the downtown. In fact, small businesses can survive in any market -- it just takes a community that cares enough to support them. Economics 101.

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mtncareer 6 years, 6 months ago

I might have missed why the Ryans are selling, are they wanting to move or something? I agree with rp, that you wouldn't sell unless the offering price was above the liquidation price of the inventory. It might well be that since the building sold the rent has increased so that profitability might not be sustainable. But the Ryans probably have the best capital structure to sustain a rent increase, so if they can't make it work, no one can. They can only hope for a "greater fool" to come along. Which brings me to my next point. Commercial real estate prices and rents. The residential boom has no doubt affected commercial prices, but without equivalent retail sales. I owned a successful retail business in SS and when the new Central Park addition was built, rents were higher than the old so no one moved over. Maybe thats why its been slow to fill, and then look at Wildhorse - high rents, high product prices ($5 ice cream cones) and low traffic. There are at least 3 businesses for sale in there and still rental vacancies. With even more retail space being built and being planned, there is just not enough business to go around, at least not yet. I believe there will be a disconnection point between commercial and residential soon.

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Neil O'Keeffe 6 years, 6 months ago

With regard to Zoros comment on Austin supporting local business, that is a town many times greater in size than Steamboat. And how is the average community minded individual supposed to support a local business other than by shopping there? If you would like to assist the employees in buying this business that is no longer viable at the current location feel free and while your at it write a check for half of the other struggling businesses in town. Now that's real "voodoo economics."

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agentofchange 6 years, 6 months ago

Too bad Ryans did not come to me to do the deal. I would have insisted the Real Estate and the Biz go together, or no deal. That location would sell even with the Biz on top. Just plain dumb advise from whatever Real Estate firm(s) they used. Location, Location, Location. Now they have totally lost that chance. Good luck Dick & Co. We will miss you.

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bikegirl 6 years, 6 months ago

I will miss the bookstore,it is an almost daily ritual.Maybe we'll be cursed with yet another Real Estate office in this space.

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Zoro 6 years, 6 months ago

Rokbot, you are correct, the people of Steamboat can readily support local businesses precisely by shopping there, which would in fact make many of them viable even at ever increasing rents. Community minded people don't need to buy Harry Potter at Wal-Mart or Amazon or now even City Market, which for some reason feels the need to sell books as loss leaders. The point about Austin proper is that the community has made a collective decision to support local independent businesses (with their wallets and otherwise) and that, as a result, its downtown has maintained its (often funky) character. Community minded people value a town's unique character and fundamentally affect the economics of a business in the myriad choices they make. Facile economic analyses conveniently neglect the fact there there are alternatives.

As for the size of towns, that is less relevant than you posit. There are hundreds of independent bookstores (and successful independent stores in general) in small, high real estate value towns throughout the country. Little tiny San Juan Island, WA (a fraction of Steamboat's size) itself has two, as just one example.

But all this misses the basic point. The employees of the bookstore think that it is an important part of this community and that they can make a go of it with just a little help and community support.

Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot (Joni Mitchell)

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