Thursday, October 27, 2016


Break out the champagne!

This year, Bookshop Santa Cruz turns 50!

Celebrations have been going on all year, as befits such a momentous occasion. To thank the community, BSC has commissioned and installed three "Artful Reading Benches" in parks and playgrounds around the county. Poured by concrete meister Tom Ralston, each bench is designed and painted by a local artist. The store has also been celebrating all year with monthly giveaways and raffles.

Santa Cruz's own Wallace Baine has just hit the bookshelves with A Light In the Midst of Darkness, a history of BSC in our community. Published by Steve Kettner, founder of the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods, it's a non-fiction memoir as told to Wallace by the people at the epicenter of BSC history — former owner Neal Coonerty, his daughter Casey Coonerty Protti, current owner of the store, and dozens of local lights and ex-employees, working with and for the Coonertys, who helped shape BSC into the cultural hub it is today.

Wallace, Neal and Candy appeared before an SRO crowd of well-wishers at a book launch at the store last week, to tell their stories. It was more of a love-fest than a traditional book-signing. Wallace read some entertaining passages from the book, and Casey spoke about growing up in a world of books.

Neal and Wallace: Boyz n the Hub
Neal's talk was mostly a heartfelt tribute to his late wife, and original business partner, Candy Issenman Coonerty: how they met at a Yeats festival in Ireland, married, moved to Santa Cruz, and decided to pursue their love of books by opening a bookstore. Little did they suspect the impact their decision would have on the Santa Cruz cultural scene.

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away (okay, it was 1966, on Pacific Avenue), on November 6, the first incarnation of Bookshop Santa Cruz opened at 1520 Pacific Avenue — more or less where it now stands — on the site of an old post-beatnik, pre-hippie hangout called The Hip Pocket Bookstore.

In 1969, the store moved across the street and down the block to 1547, Pacific Avenue, where it stood for the next 20 years. In 1973, Neal and Candy bought the business from owners Ron and Sharon Lau.

Sharon continued to work at the store for years. Ron could often be found outside, on the deck of the first incarnation of Caffe Pergolessi (built in the courtyard behind BSC in 1974), holding forth on a variety of inflammatory topics.

Bookshop basement: way, way back in the day
The Coonerty family weathered the quake of 1989 — and were blown away by the subsequent show of community support when 400 volunteers showed up to move boxes of books out of the rubble to help the business relocate to a tent. The store faced down challenges from mighty chains like Crown Books, and Borders — and prevailed! But you can read all about it in Wallace's book!

Me, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for BSC. I worked in the textbook room, in the basement, from 1974 to 1976. (It was sheer nepotism; my brother, Steve, was the manager.) It was my second job out of college, after a 6-month stint selling popcorn at the former UA Cinemas (now the Riverfront) on Front Street.

Books and movies: two obsessions I never got over!

Artful Reading Bench by Terra Dawson, San Lorenzo Park

I loved it! There was no dress code — I got to wear my embroidered overalls and Monty Python T-shirt to work. (Hey, it was the '70s!) And we got to borrow books.

As long as we weren't too grubby, and left the pristine dust jackets in the safety of the storeroom, we could take books home to read! (Well, I don't know if we "could," but we did!) It was all good!

BSC will be throwing its own birthday bash in the store on Friday, November 4, starting at 8 pm. And you're invited! Music, cake, raffle prizes, and a proclamation from the mayor are on the program, and who knows what other surprises?

If you've ever bought a book, browsed through a magazine, or attended an event at Bookshop Santa Cruz — or you just want to say "Thank You!" — come join the celebration.

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