Cindy Corujo has been a bookseller for 36 years and has the longest tenure of any Island Books employee. Nothing before that matters or counts. She must have started young because she looks no older than 40. June 2023 marks her 30th year at Island Books. While Cindy likes to say that her plans for the future are so up in the air she calls them her future planes, she really only hopes to be gift-wrapping kids' books for birthday parties while Nancy Stewart sings Sticky Sticky Bubblegum every Saturday for the next 30-50 years.
Miriam: Let's start at the beginning, Cindy. How did you come to work at Island Books?
Cindy: I'm pretty sure I was the first off-Island, no Mercer-Island-Connections person to work at the bookstore. Actually maybe Mark who worked in receiving and who was there when I started was—though I think he actually had a Carol Kelly connection through her daughter, Emily.
I do know that I answered Roger's first ever "help wanted" ad either in Seattle Weekly or in the The Seattle Times—It was 1994. I had experience, I had worked at a bookstore in Chicago for 6 years. I was a bartender before that, I had a BA in English and had taught English for a very little bit before that—I was pretty sure I was on track to be a famous writer but that hasn't quite panned out... yet. But hey, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist in 4th grade and that hasn't panned out yet either.
I knew no one in Seattle when I moved here. I found an efficiency apartment on First Hill and unloaded the contents of my crammed full 14-foot Pemske into it, plopped all my savings into the hands of my new landlord for three months rent with deposit and immediately set out to find work. Something I never had a hard time finding. Until Seattle.
I applied and interviewed everywhere for everything. Even a bridal boutique. Even an artificial limb company. I was just in conversation with "Annie's Affordable Art" in Ballard where I would be framing commercial posters interspersed with customer service in a windowless space when I saw Roger's ad. I think Roger would be the first to tell you that I walked into the bookstore blatantly desperate for the job.
Miriam: Tell me how your work as the store artist grew and bloomed. For those who don't know, the placards, quotes, window displays, and much of the store lettering and aesthetic came from Cindy's artistic hands. How did the rest of the staff discover your gifts?
Cindy: It's touching that you would say this. I will agree that I helped changed the look and feel of the store over time to help Roger build a "fun with purpose" (I stole that from Highlights magazine) environment. I did do the signage, and windows and displays for most of those years. I would never call myself the store "artist." I was certainly the store "scribe" and brought the first blackboards to the space to share fun quotes and event information. The blackboard up front to the right of the front door as you're leaving was the first, and I purchased it for $7 at Goodwill on Dearborn after a day-long and determined hunt for that exact thing. I wish I had kept a record of the quotes I've found over the years—everything from Cicero commenting on kids to my mother opining on wind chimes. Fun Fact: I have never used the same quote twice.
When I think of the store's true artists, I think of Andrea Lorig, whose art adorned the newspaper advertisements and created the logos in the early days, and of Poo Putsch who painted the play house with such care and loving detail that I only just this past weekend discovered a tiny fairy in the grassy garden painted on the north face and Dr. Deane who built the playhouse and of course, Roger, who imagined and executed a series of fun remodels to transform the floor plan of the store into the interesting maze of steps and nooks and ramps and platforms and throughways that it is and whose personal collection of three typewriters were the seed ("Hey I've got one of those at home--I should bring it by") of our community collection now thirty years in the making. More recently, Brad, who's been here about a year now, has been doing some gorgeous blackboards and signs that completely outshine mine. Sigh. To my credit, a famous publisher once said I should have my own font. Caitlin can testify to that.
Miriam: I would use a Cindy font! I'm a huge fan of the store aesthetic and have loved watching it evolve over the years. Switching gears now—will you tell us about any store memories that are particularly memorable for you? Bloopers welcome, or go heartwarming...
Cindy: When I started, the bookstore was a different place. Stuffed with books. All the space where we now display all of the beautiful miscellaneous stuff we house today was for the display of books. All the general sections were divided into subsections. The place had a classic bookstore vibe and a formal feel—way more formal than me and I wondered how I was going to fit in. The women who worked there were all ten to twenty years older than me, there were a lot of employees working part time and they were for the most part, really well-read, really well-educated and really well-dressed when they went to work. I really did not think I was going to fit in. What I learned pretty quickly was that I didn't have to fit in. That Island Books was a place that made room for people. It still is. Since then, I've had the good fortune to spend my entire work life with an evolving cast of fun and interesting colleagues and customers, some of whom I count among my best friends (Hi Wendy!).
We were open when the Nisqually Earthquake hit—All twenty NYTs hardcover bestsellers shuddered and toppled off the bestseller shelf. That was my first clue before running through the store shouting Duck! Though I think I really shouted F*****ck!!! Either way, I'm sure I saved lives that day.
The midnight release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—three long years of waiting after Goblet of Fire was published, our modest midnight release party plan grew into a huge happening because of Nancy Page's imagination while on the phone discussing our "plans" with a Tacoma reporter. We rose to the occasion of Nancy's imagination with the help of Youth Theatre Northwest, and a bunch of creative and handy customers along with staff all pitching in to make it happen. We had probably one of the best midnight release parties in the United States. In history. Bar none.
I've been through several significant anniversary parties here but I think my favorite was the Pie Social we had for our fortieth (I think). Our spin was—It's our birthday, what are you gonna do about it? We want pie.
And we got a storeful of pie. So much fun! So many people came bearing so much pie!
Fast forward to Laurie's tenure. Roger was relieved, ready to retire and stoked to strike out for the territory. Laurie was ecstatic and enthusiastic, did a cartwheel in the main aisle, hosted a wonderful welcome party and brought a new era of being an even more events- oriented bookstore. Laurie and Victor added the comfortable overstuffed reading chairs and beautiful throw rugs. The twinkling lights to the display cases came later.
Lowpoint: First author signing ever with no books to sign—we botched our order timing and had no books for the signing. In spite of our eternally mortifying gaffe, it was one of the funnest "signings" we'd ever held. Everyone was cool with getting their signed copies later and the author (Claire Gebben) couldn't have been more gracious and good-humored about it. We still sell her novel and her memoir.
Miriam: You've seen it all. Let's finish with what you're looking forward to at the bookstore in the year ahead. Besides the big anniversary, of course.
Cindy: Re-opening the play house happened recently, but I'd been looking forward to it for a long time. That little structure has meant a bit to people over the years and it had been closed to kids since Covid. We did a cleaning, an inspection, and a little facelift. As Laurie said: We're having an Open House.
Also, Anna, an intern, and I are working on the one and only official Island Books Golden Jubilee 2023 Typewriter Fixation Calendar—14 months of sexy typewriters from the Island Books Typewriter Collection with bonus All Inclusive Centerfold. You can read more about our typewriter project here. If anyone cares to pre-order, please let me know. I think it will retail for $23, in honor of our 50th year (2023). I'm pretty excited about how it's turning out so far. We expect it to be ready for press in September and for the release of at least 100 signed and numbered copies in October/November.
Miriam: I want one! No seriously, I am so excited about this calendar. I'm getting one for all my friends too. I hope it's typeset in Cindy font.
To our Island Books community: In the next 50 Years of Island Books installment, I’ll be talking with one of our favorite authors, Erica Bauermeister. Stay tuned!