The community stacks
Maria’s Bookshop looks back on 25 years on Main Avenue

Maria’s Bookshop casts a familiar glow. The local institution celebrates 25 years of business in downtown Durango this month. In that time, Maria’s has evolved into much more than a book store and is widely considered a resource for the greater Southwest community./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Shawna Bethell

Twenty-five years ago this month, Maria’s Bookshop opened its doors to the Durango community. Now, two and a half decades later, the shop stands not only as a “bookstore” but a regional icon of Southwestern literary voices, community service and a place where those with a passion for books can gather. The shop was opened by Dusty Teal during the depressed economy of the early 1980s. Now, as independent bookshops across the country are closing their doors, Maria’s Bookshop still thrives. What is it about this little bookshop that has allowed it to become such a well-reputed hub of the Four Corners region?

“What’s going on here is so much bigger than us, this building, or our staff,” says Peter Schertz, co-owner of Maria’s Bookshop. “Sometimes I feel like we’re riding a wave of something that comes straight from this community.”

Andrea Avantaggio, who is married to Schertz and is Maria’s other co-owner, adds, “The first day I ‘got’ what this bookshop means to people was the day a man came in looking for books about felt napping. I just remember watching his eyes twinkle when he saw how many titles there were that could feed his new interest and passion. I realized that’s the kind of thing people use their local bookshop for." 

Both Schertz and Avantaggio, who together purchased Maria’s in 1998, credit Teal and his shop manager, Mary Anne Griffin, for shaping the eclectic book selection and the Southwest flavor that have become Maria’s trademarks. But more than anything else, they credit the community.

“I felt so young when we took over the shop,” says Avantaggio who had worked for Teal since 1992. “We had become caretakers of something that had been carefully nurtured for so many years. I wondered how we could service a community with so many needs.

But the community came to them. As Durango grew and changed, people would come to the shop and support what they saw and request new offerings. As the demographic, politics and passions grew and changed, so did Maria’s. There has also been that element, that feel, that “something” about Maria’s that nobody can quite articulate, that has stayed the same.

“People don’t work at Maria’s for the financial rewards,” laughed Durango City Councilor Michael Rendon at the Ed Abbey celebration that was recently held at the bookshop. “They work here to be part of the history.”

Rendon, who spent time slinging books for Maria’s a few years ago, explained that history, saying, “I remember reading one of Abbey’s books where he said he always stopped at Maria’s when he was in town. And there are just a lot of other regional writers who have spent time in the place over the years. It’s heavily respected in the area.”

It’s true. When Teal and Griffin ran Maria’s, they cultivated that Southwest aura. Walk into the shop and it’s palpable: rich, golden woodwork, Western sunlight streaming through the large windows, and the broad selection of native and Southwest regional titles that grace the spines of the books. Maria’s is symbolic of all the Four Corners represents – and local writers support that.

Jeanne Costello, a bookseller at Maria’s, stocks a few fresh reads at the Main Avenue business on Tuesday morning. A community celebration for the store is set for Oct. 17./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” says Schertz.

Avantaggio adds, “We have so many authors who give us such tremendous support, and we are so lucky to have literally hundreds of award-winning authors like Claude Steelman and Will Hobbs.”

Then there are the travelers, people who come to the Southwest because they’ve read Abbey or Terry Tempest-Williams or Ken Wright, and they want to see it for themselves. They want to hike the trails, learn the history and take home part of the myth. Often what they take home are books.

“People come in here and they can associate the experience they get in the landscape, the one that makes them feel alive, with the people here,” explains Avantaggio. “It reinforces that sense of belonging to the community, and that’s part of what they take home, too.”

Many of the customers who are travelers to the region return each year to the bookshop whether they are from a town nearby or from another country. They often share their experiences with the booksellers behind the counter.

“There are people who have been going there for years,” says Rendon. “Repeat customers, no matter where they’re from.”

Rendon also touches on an even larger aspect of Maria’s – larger than the Durango community or the Southwest. “I’ve traveled a lot,” he says, “and I’ve been to places that have been really heavy emotionally, but the place that brought tears to my eyes was the square in Germany where they had burned books. That evilness of taking away ideas was tangible. People like knowledge and spreading ideas. People like books.”

So is this what has given life to the small shop that lives at 960 Main Ave., in Durango? Where whether the customer is interested in poetry or politics, graphic novels or simply a great read, there is something for each individual? Evidently so.

“We credit Dusty and Mary Anne, we credit our incredible staff of booksellers, but mostly we credit the people who have been coming into the shop for 25 years to share their passion for books with us,” says Avantaggio. •

 

 

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