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50 Years of Island Books: Roger Page (and a bit of Nancy), Part 2

In the previous installment of my interview with former Island Books owner Roger Page, we talked about how he came to own the store, and how Island Books navigated the arrival of online and big box retailers (hint: it was you who kept it going, the community and customers). In part 2, we dig into staff memories, and Roger's wife Nancy chimes in with what it was like having their kids participate in the store effort.

Miriam: Roger, can you talk about the team you had around you at Island Books during those years as an owner? What was the cast of characters like, and do you have any particular good team memories? I know I do.

Roger: It was always a good mix of booksellers...and I'm not sure how that came about. A lot of the credit should go to Lola Deane, with an assist by Phil Deane. Her vision from the beginning was for something more than a little community bookshop. She dreamed up a mid-sized, sophisticated, warm and welcoming bookstore that could serve much of the Eastside. She hired well-educated readers from amongst her friends and worked with the wider bookselling community to stay up to date with inventory and publishing trends. 

When I came across the bridge in 1984 to inquire about a gift wrapping job, I was one of the first of many to be surprised by this eclectic and first class collection of books and book lovers. Those local book lovers took pride in their store and I was lifted by their standards and expertise. That sharing of pride and expertise was the key to wave after wave of great booksellers that came through the store. In the earlier days they were from Mercer Island, people like Meb Paxson, Poo Putsch, Wendy Crawford, and Elinor MacDonald. But as I began to take more of a role in management I made a concerted effort to transition towards more full-time, career booksellers. I raised salaries, arranged for health care and bus passes, even a modest retirement fund. 

The group that slowly formed mostly in the nineties were all bright and interesting people who had chosen to work in bookstores long term. They had progressed past the casual bookselling experience and were now looking for more stability in their thirties and forties. Their commitment to the job, to each other, to the store, and to the community was strong and deep. That was the core group that worked together for 20 plus years and became a second family to Nancy and me. It was the great reward of working with the likes of Garry Jarman, Cindy Corujo, Kay Wilson, Marni Gittinger, Carol Kelly, Lori Mitchell, Nancy Shawn and so many others that made our time there so rich and stimulating. They rode the ups and downs of retail and bookselling. The Harry Potter parties, the long hours of Christmas season, the goofy publicity events, the great author readings and the terrible ones, the leaky ceiling, the power outages, the funky computers. All of it. Together. 

In the end I think we were better friends than employees and employers but that's because our relationships had outgrown defined roles. After twenty years we all knew our jobs; we all knew our favorite customers and favorite books; and we treated the lovely, lively space that Lola had envisioned so long ago as our second home populated by our second family full of characters with flaws and talents that we just adored.  I still marvel at it...and feel so lucky to have been a part.  

{At this point, I managed to lure Nancy Page into our conversation, even though Roger and Nancy’s grown kids were home and keeping her occupied. Here’s what she added--}

Nancy: One thing I can bring to this latest installment is the staff who were in the wings ready and willing too help at Christmas time, year after year, Terri Moorman, Sandy Bartow, James Crosby and the Pagelings, as Cindy coined our children, Emma and Lewis. They were all a cheery and energetic group coming to the rescue when the fried full timers needed them most, picking up slack at the shipping table, taking long and detailed phone orders with grace and wit. More than once I found Lewis up at the picture book wall pulling stacks of his old favorites for local grandmothers, several who would often ask year to year if Lewis was working. And Emma over in the YA section, convincingly handing out just the right edgy book to mystified aunts who would come back after the new year and rave about the successes. There was love and camaraderie; a heady experience for our kids.

Miriam: Those kids are pretty amazing adults these days. I can't think of a better place to grow up than in a bookstore.

To our Island Books community: In the next 50 Years of Island Books installment, I'll be talking to my old blog partner, former Island Books bookseller, and the current manager of Seattle's Madison Books, James Crossley. We'll talk about his philosophy behind buying and curating what goes on the shelves, how the blog changed the way Island Books connected to the community, and more. I hope you tune in!