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Farmington bookstore prepares to celebrate 40th anniversary this weekend


Owner Amy Henkenius recalls challenges store has faced

Mike Easterling   | Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Amy Henkenius and the bookstore she runs that was bought by her parents 40 years ago have been through adversity before.

In September 2002, she recalled, floodwaters seeped in the back door, soaking and ruining the carpet. For the only time in its history, Amy's Bookcase was closed. Henkenius had to move all the books to one side of the store and clean up the mess, then move them to the other side and cleaned up that mess.

But she wasn't alone. As her shop at 2530 San Juan Blvd. in Farmington prepares to celebrate its fourth decade in business this weekend in conjunction with National Independent Bookstore Day, Henkenius recalled how dozens of volunteers, including Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts, turned out to help her nearly 20 years ago in the aftermath of that flood because they loved her store and what it represented.

"I had forgotten how many people helped us during that time," Henkenius said. "That was a great effort."

Nearly 20 years later, Amy's Bookcase is still around, having weathered the sharp decline in the number of independent book stores nationally and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the shuttering of thousands of small businesses across America. Henkenius said the outbreak of the virus has been by far the biggest challenge her business has faced.

"It's so ongoing," she said. "In March, I just cried every night. I didn't know how I was going to do it."

But Henkenius figured it out, just as she has with every other threat to her shop's existence over the years. When she couldn't allow customers inside her store to browse for titles that caught their fancy because of the governor's public health orders, Henkenius started offer "pandemic packs" — sacks of three books she sold for $5 in specific genres that Henkenius selected herself from her vast inventory. Customers could order the packs over the phone or online, and she would ship them the books or offer curbside delivery for those willing to drive to her store.

It was an idea that quickly caught fire. Henkenius estimated she sold at least 100 packs a week for four or five weeks, allowing the business to sustain itself until she could open the doors to customers again. After news of what she was doing went viral, Henkenius started receiving orders from across the country.

"(The pandemic packs) were really good for our business," she said. "We were able to keep our bills paid, and we didn't have to close for good."

Henkenius said the promotion has had a lasting positive effect on her business. She now regularly fills orders for two out-of-state customers who became regulars during that period — one in Ohio and another in California — but she said she is seeing more in-store traffic now than she was before the virus hit.

"People are reading a lot of books," she said. "We saw several little microbursts of people today. And I think a lot of people discovered us when we were doing our pandemic packs. I think people really started reading more during the pandemic."

Still, Henkenius is happy that her customers can search the store's titles on their own again. Trying to find books that suited her customers' tastes was exhausting, she said, and she knows that a big part of what makes indie book stores so enjoyable is the experience of being able to stroll unhurried up and down its aisles.

Henkenius bought the store from her parents, Dale and Jean Pancoast, in 1998 after they bought it from its original owner in 1980. Henkenius said her father continued to help her with the store nearly every day until his death in 2008, and her mother still drops by to help when she can or visit with longtime customers.

The 40th anniversary celebration she has planned on Aug. 29 originally was scheduled for April 1 but was postponed because of the pandemic. Henkenius said the event will be a scaled-down version of that celebration because she only allows 10 customers in the store at any given time.

"It's a fine line we're walking," she said. "We really want to promote it, but, please don't all come at once."

Henkenius had planned to have a series of local authors make appearances for the celebration, but now they will appear on the Amy's Bookstore Facebook page at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon.

More: Farmington bookstore owner finds new way to reach customers during coronavirus shutdown

She also will be selling some exclusive items that are available only at indie bookstores as part of National Independent Bookstore Day, such as signed, exclusive editions of "A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles, as well as posters, candles and children's items. There also will be giveaways.

Henkenius said she's disappointed she won't be able to celebrate the occasion on a larger scale, but she's grateful to have found a way to remain viable after so many years.

"I love what I do," she said. "I love our community, and I love helping people read."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.