There’s nothing quite like getting lost in a book. Maybe it is the weight of its pages in your hand or the sweet, musty smell of the paper. For a moment or two, the outside world slips away. The problems at work, the busy street outside, fade to a distant murmur. Often, a book can provide a much-needed escape; Bright Side Bookshop, retreat on San Francisco Street, provides an opportunity to disappear into a literary world.
Lisa Lamberson has always wanted to own a bookstore. An avid reader and owner of Mountain Sports, it seemed like the perfect combination of career and pure enjoyment. When former owner of the bookstore, Nancy Nelson, decided to sell the shop, Lamberson partnered with Annette Avery and Ben Shaffer—also local book-lovers—to take over. They simply did not want to lose the downtown bookshop.
Now, the trio has made the bookstore their own, with wall-to-wall shelving, a colorful children’s section, an ample collection of young adult novels and a selection of bookworm-worthy gifts.
“I had dreams of having a children’s bookstore for most of my life,” Lamberson says. “Turns out, Annette and I had never talked about this as friends and she had thoughts about being a bookshop owner … It was a need for the downtown community to keep the bookstore going—that was my first gut reaction.”
It is almost fateful Lamberson would find herself at the helm of a bookstore. Mountain Sports used to be a local newsstand called McGaugh’s and Lamberson describes how people still come looking for the newsstand, years after its closure. She hopes Bright Side fulfills this role and will be just as memorable.
Even at the center of one of the busiest streets in town, the bookstore is surprisingly calm. There’s something unique about the hush of a bookstore—it’s not a library, but there’s an unspoken rule about respecting others’ experiences there. Cell phones are silenced and ignored. It almost feels sacrilegious to rush through, without thumbing through at least a few books.
“There are many people who work downtown who come into the shop just wanting to get away,” Lamberson says. “They just want to escape, maybe unplug a little bit.”
With the crushing onset of Amazon, which has overshadowed many industries besides just books, many would believe that bookstores were on their way out. Borders went bankrupt in 2011 and Barnes & Noble closed a swath of storefronts between 2007 and 2016. The chains still haven’t made a full recovery.
Small indie bookstores, on the other hand, are seeing a resurgence. Independent bookstores, similar to Bright Side, keep popping up across the country. They seem to be doing something right because they’re not going away. Quite the opposite: they’re thriving.
“Everybody has said, ‘why would you open a bookstore in today’s world of digital e-readers and Kindles and all of that,” Avery says. “And I have to say, it has been very refreshing. Everybody still has a romantic relationship with books, whether you think they’re going away or not. People think that the younger generations are not reading and that is so not true. Half the people who come through the store are kids or young adults.”
This sentiment has reverberated across the U.S. Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, recently commented on the return of the mom-and-pop bookstore in an interview with IndyStar.
“They are of a breed of new stores that have opened in communities that had been underserved,” Teicher said. “There are places in the United States where you absolutely can in 2017 open a viable indie bookstore business and make it work. You make it work because you are engaged in the community, involved with the school system, the library, local businesses. There is a model.”
Bright Side Bookshop has perfected the model, maintaining a haven for the Flagstaff community to gather, educate, learn and relax. On the Internet, people often feel very distant. Lamberson describes that it’s sometimes like “screaming into the void.” There’s only so much enjoyment online. A bookstore is one place to rekindle a sense of togetherness, with conversation about our favorite authors and stories. It doesn’t hurt to have a knowledgeable staff; they’ll likely be willing to give advice or suggestions.
“Try to go to Amazon and have a conversation about a book,” Lamberson says. “You can’t. You miss the touch of it, the feel of it, the sound of it, the smell of it.”
At the base level, Bright Side is about enhancing Flagstaff. Flagstaff is already an incredible community and place to live, but the bookstore provides a place to love their home a little deeper, whether that is about learning about its history, the people who have come and stayed, or the town’s role in the greater scheme of things.
Avery describes how entire families will stop in the bookstore. There’s something for all ages to enjoy. Parents might peruse the magazines, or read a picture book with the kids. While Flagstaff offers a plethora of nighttime options—bars, restaurants, venues—it needed something more for people to enjoy in the daylight hours. Furthermore, the bookshop is proud to host a variety of events, from organization meetings, to lectures, to book signings and readings. They also make an effort to support local authors.
Yes, the ultimate goal is to make money off of selling books, but providing a place to showcase the community is just as important.
“All of us have this commitment to this place,” Lamberson says. “We’ve cultivated a team who comes to us with varied interests; this can be a venue to exposure to those things in town. It really is about sharing Flagstaff as much as sharing the books that we carry.”
Bright Side fits into Flagstaff’s ever-evolving downtown. Its collection of books are growing just as quickly as its loyal customer base. If its popularity is any indication, Bright Side is becoming an integral part of the downtown businesses. History has shown: people need a local bookstore. Bright Side is that and more.
Bright Side Bookshop is located at 18 N. San Francisco, and is open from 9 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon–Sat, and 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on Sun. To learn more, swing by, call 440-5041, or visit them on Facebook.