Steamboat Springs Off the Beaten Path Bookstore will continue to avoid Steamboat's main drag when it moves to a new home on Ninth Street in March.
Off the Beaten Path founders Dick and Leslie Ryan sold their Seventh Street building to Gene Sagouspe of JP Property, LLC, for $2.1 million in November 2007. However, the future of the business itself has been in doubt for several months as the Ryans unsuccessfully sought a buyer for the bookstore.
Now, the Ryans have done something they didn't intend on last November. They have announced not only the pending sale of the business to a Pennsylvania couple, but also their pending purchase of the former Fair Exchange building on Ninth Street to house the bookstore.
The Ryans will lease the Fair Exchange space behind Fuzziwig's Candy Factory, with an option to purchase, to Ron and Sue Krall. The Kralls divide their time between Steamboat Springs and Chadds Ford, Pa., Dick Ryan said. They plan to relocate permanently to Steamboat this summer. Chadds Ford is between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del.
"We had no intention of purchasing a commercial property," Ryan said. "I would only buy it if it was going to assist in keeping the bookstore" viable.
Ryan said that previously unbeknownst to him, the Kralls are longtime customers of Off the Beaten Path.
"They approached us at Literary Sojourn last fall," Ryan said.
Many prospective buyers have approached the Ryans about buying the business, he said, but when they did their diligence and compared the balance sheet to the rent required by the selling price of the Seventh Street building, they couldn't see a way to make it work.
The Kralls were the first potential buyers who suggested moving the business to a new location, allowing lower real estate costs.
"This store is an institution," Ron Krall said. "We've felt that way about it for many years. We hope it will continue to be a community gathering place."
The Kralls do not have a background in retail, but hope to retain most of the store's core staff when they open at the new location in March.
Krall is a neurologist who, as a clinical pharmacologist, has worked as the chief medical officer for GlaxoSmithKline, a large company that develops vaccines and medicines to treat diseases.
Sue Krall is a homemaker, her husband said, who has a degree in English Literature from Bryn Mawr College and had a career in nursing.
The Kralls have owned a home in Steamboat for more than four years.
It's no secret that independent bookstores have struggled to survive in an era when large chains dictate to book publishers, and Internet sellers apply increasing pressure on profit margins.
Author and independent bookstore owner Betsy Burton of The King's English in Salt Lake City gave a talk on the fate of independent stores at Off the Beaten Path in May 2005. She told her audience that mass merchandising by the chains disguises the fact that they have driven up the price of books, made it more difficult for publishers to sell their press run at retail and diminished opportunities for new authors to get published.
But she also offered hope.
"Two to three years ago, I think we saw a sea change in our community. All but two or three of the independent bookstores had closed. People started to realize they were losing their community to anonymous businesses, and they started to care. I think we've seen a tipping point in my city," Burton said.
Krall said he and his wife want to emphasize one of their perceived strengths of the business.
"We've always been impressed by the knowledgeable staff at Off the Beaten Path and the fact that they can give you good advice about book selections," he said. "We really want to build on that."
Off the Beaten Path always has been a hybrid, offering food and beverages from its own kitchen. Krall said the new bookstore, although it would offer fewer square feet, would continue to offer seating, coffee, light lunches and perhaps soups.
Kevin Bennett, who is selling the new Ninth Street location to the Ryans, said the building was built in 1929 and used as an automotive shop. As a former retailer himself, Bennett thinks the new location will be advantageous for Off the Beaten Path, partly because customers won't have to climb stairs to enter the building.
Amy Garris of Old West Management represents Sagouspe, who is a multi-generation almond farmer from California. She said he intends to open a business in the Seventh Street Building.
Ryan said it is likely Off the Beaten Path will go dark for a short time in late February before reopening in March.