The Evolution of a Hive

Why, for our kids’ sakes, we have to hold on tight to? independent bookstores

My introduction to reading was an excruciating experience. The memory of sitting at the kitchen bar in miserable, frustrated tears before my impossibly challenging homework, which looked nothing like it was supposed to, is still vivid in my mind. Both in reading and writing, my letters were backwards and my numbers were reversed. I was severely dyslexic, and I was pissed.
And, fortunately, determined. It wasn’t until I’d spent countless after-school hours sitting on the floor of my bedroom, with Hooked On Phonics playing over and over on my plastic record player, that the world of books and reading unfurled before me. Possibly because entry to that world was so hard-won, it became one where I wanted to spend every moment I possibly could.
My coming of age was marked by books: The Trumpet of the Swan, Beezus and Ramona, Tuck Everlasting, Little House on the Prairie, Betsy and Tacy, Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, anything and everything by Judy Bloom, the guilty pleasure of Sweet Valley High! J.D Salinger, George Orwell, John Knowles, Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac, Shakespeare! In college, I majored in University Studies so I could cut out science and math and take nothing but English classes. I favored upper-level courses that focused solely on single authors, like J.R.R Tolkien, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, E.M. Forster, Raymond Carver, James Joyce and Flannery O’Connor, so I wouldn’t miss a single book by any of them. This is all to say that despite, or possibly because of, that painful start, books have been the sun around which my life has orbited.
I have always considered reading to be an amazing gift, as if I had outsmarted fate or something. And so wherever I go, bookstores — those temples of the tomes I value so dearly — are always the first places I seek out. A good bookstore is a little like a song; whenever one pops into my head, I instantly associate it with a time, a place, and a feel. I can’t think of Manhattan without thinking of Strand Books, where I spent many a lunch hour hiding out from the city; or Portland without thinking of Powell’s, where there is a dimly-lit aisle in the depths of the store where I would lose myself in the Beats while escaping the rain; or Bird Song, the little house across the street from the University of New Mexico that held shelves and shelves of used trade paperbacks, where I bought the stacks of books I needed for my countless college reading lists.
For me, bookstores made falling in love with reading a three-dimensional experience. They hold wonder and awe. The smell; the countless shapes, textures and colors of the books on the shelves; the people who are there for the exact same reason. Bookstores are the magical places that you can step into and know, with a quickened pulse, that you will leave with something that could quite possibly transform your life. At least for a moment or two. Or possibly a lifetime of moments.
For kids, a good bookstore is a place where they can simply march up to the counter and tell the bookseller what they are into, what books they’ve liked or what genre, and that person will lead them to their perfect next read that will inspire and transport them. No matter what age. That book will somehow, even if just a little, help develop them into the person they will eventually grow up to be.
I hear people on a regular basis lamenting the fact that kids’ bookstores are an anomaly and that bookstores themselves are becoming a thing of the past. The hard truth is, you often don’t realize how valuable something is until it’s gone. Many independent bookstores have closed and left gaping holes in their communities. Santa Fe simply can’t do without a place where kids can create memories and be transformed by books at an early age. It would be a drought of sorts.
Imagine living in a town with no place where your kids can see, smell, feel, and pick out books, no place that supports that process of falling in love with reading. I started imagining that town four years ago when Borders closed its doors, and it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to raise my kids.
Yes, Santa Fe is very fortunate to have many amazing independent bookstores. But I was imagining not having an extensive space just for kids, a place that they could walk into and know: “This is just for me.” Initially, it felt like the disappearance of Borders and their kids’ section left a hole, but it soon became clear it was the perfect time to create that space for the kids and families of this town. There was a rippling of disenchantment with Amazon and a resurgence of love and support for small, independent bookstores. I talked to consultants and people in the industry, and there was a consensus that yes, it could be done. When the lovely little house on Montezuma Street, with big trees, a white picket fence, and a supportive landlord, became available and all else seemed to fall into place, there was no denying that Bee Hive was meant to be.
It’s tricky, opening your doors and getting the masses to come, but bookstores are the perfect vessels for building community. The goal is to bring people together at a story time or a workshop or a reading — to be a hub, a hive of sorts — or simply to provide a place where people of any age can hang out, browse, discover and, hopefully, dish about the most recent book they’ve read. I believe that, with desire and consciousness, any community can sustain a kids’ bookstore. And I’ve got a history of deep determination when it comes to books and reading.
It’s my intention that, 20 years from now, when we’re celebrating Tumbleweeds 40th anniversary, Bee Hive will also still be alive and well and thriving, fostering a love of reading in our grandkids and bustling as a well-established cornerstone of this community. The kids in this town are way too awesome, and there are way too many books and way too much reading to do, for there to be any other option.

Christian Nardi is the founder and owner of Bee Hive, an independent kids’ bookstore in Santa Fe.

*Bee Hive is honored to have this story appear in the Tumbleweeds 20th Anniversary issue. Congratulations Tumbleweeds! The families of Santa Fe would be lost without you…

Wednesday May 3, 2015