Tom Beans sat with a friend over some whiskey, wishing aloud he could find a small town in which to run a bookstore.
For Beans, a believer in Neil Gaiman’s aphorism “a town isn’t a town without a bookstore,” the end of the fly-fishing season in Sisters meant some months of restlessness.
Not weeks later, he walked into Dudley’s Bookshop on NW Minnesota Avenue in downtown Bend. Beans got to talking with the shop’s owner, Rebecca Singer, who, after learning of his aspirations, asked in her lilting English accent, “Do you want to run one in Bend?”
In the months since, the little store has undergone a technical and philosophical reconfiguration.
Singer bought the business in March 2013 after working there for about a year and a half, she said. Until Beans came on board as business partner, the store had focused exclusively on used books.
Singer believes the little store has “a very special soul,” but nearly two years of lackluster business — despite loyal customers and social groups meeting at the store — was draining.
“I was pretty much burned out till he came in,” Singer said Friday, sitting next to Beans in the newly feng-shui’d upper level of the bookstore. “My get-up-and-go got up and went.”
“We needed somebody with real expertise,” Singer said. Beans ran a bookstore in California in the 1990s and brings business acumen to the enterprise, Singer said. He helped her make the coffee-making more cost-effective. The store recently switched from brewing Sisters Coffee to Bonsai Beans, a Bend roastery.
New literary fiction is the new star of the bookstore’s show, though good-quality used books certainly have a loving home there. New hardcovers are discounted by 20 percent. And while Dudley’s doesn’t carry everything, Beans said, they can order whatever book a customer may request.
“We’re definitely not trying to be a general bookstore,” said Beans, who is optimistic about the store’s future.
The store started ordering new books Nov. 20, Beans said, and since then, sales have jumped 300 percent, thanks in part to a jam-packed holiday shopping season. “Sales of books over Christmas has been incredible,” Singer said.
When Singer bought the business, she replaced the floors and countertops, but Beans felt there was more work to do to make the store more welcoming. He got rid of large shelves and harsh lighting.
Together they began “schlepping thousands of books” out of the store, Beans said, volumes boasting titles like “‘How to have a baby in 1978’ and ‘How to raise a child in 1956,’” Singer quipped.
On a recent Friday, the downstairs area was flooded with browsers, readers and coffee drinkers.
Beans also predicts a “backlash” against the vast delivery empire of Amazon.com and a return to local vendors. Despite some industry panic about the popularity of e-readers, an October Nielsen Book & Consumer survey found sales of physical books outpaced sales of electronic books by 44 percent.
The partners see a unique opportunity for the store to divide its focus equally on coffee and on books. While other Bend bookstores specialize — Pegasus Books in graphic novels and comics, for example — Dudley’s offers fiction titles and a cozy atmosphere that other stores lack, Beans said.
“We have a lot of competition, but no other coffee shops have books,” Singer said.
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