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Pictured above: Sarah and Gary, owners of Iconoclast Books in Ketchum, Idaho, appreciating the view.
Six years ago this month, Gary Hunt, owner of Iconoclast Books in Ketchum, Idaho, was killed in a car accident on his way home from one of the frequent events hosted in his store. He left behind a baby daughter, his wife Sarah and his three “bonus” children (from Sarah’s previous marriage), not to mention three regional stores including a new flagship store and coffee shop in downtown Ketchum, a warehouse for the internet side of the business, and an entire community of people (whether they were seasonal or full time residents) who relied on Iconoclast for its ever growing stock of new, used and rare books, as well as for its open-door policy when it came to matters of community organizing, events, and fundraising. On the sixth anniversary of Gary’s death, Sarah gives us the update from the place where Pound was born and Hemingway died, and the bookstore in Central Idaho that remains, despite everything, truly iconoclastic. – C.P. Heiser
T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, “mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain.” For me, May is possibly worse, and bittersweet, both personally and professionally. It holds both the anniversaries of my marriage to Gary as well as that of his death. Twenty years ago he brought Iconoclast Books to life and since his passing, I’ve honored the legacy of the store, stayed current with the needs of my community, and strived to find the right formula for Iconoclast Books to remain a vital part of both myself and the community; to stay open so that I can continue to do the work I love.
Another season of skiing has passed, the days are warming and lengthening, and our valley is in that pause before the summer brings another rush of visitors to enjoy the scenic beauty that we residents get to experience year round. I was thinking about the season, and about Gary, in the bookstore earlier this week when a photographer came in, wanting to do a pictorial story on area businesses in those in-between days of “slack.”
As he took photos, I described it to him, but Iconoclast did most of the talking; the back third being vacated as we downsize, somewhat gratefully, in response to a request from our landlord to create space for a suite of new offices. My staff and I are sad to see the space go, but it is a mixed blessing.
As we work to downsize, I spend my days placing on sale many of the books that still carry Gary’s handwriting on their inside covers. I sold shelves this week that wear his fingerprints, my own, and those of former high school students. Gary’s mark on the store is leaving, quite literally by the truckload, but not his mark on the community. The store will look less like the one he built, but the inspiration will still be iconoclastic. My hope is that a smaller, stronger Iconoclast Books will continue to stimulate our vibrant, local community as it has since 1994.
I shared this with the photographer, adding details about the recent challenges that every resident and business owner here knows all too well; that the valley has been hurt economically by natural and man-made calamities. A persistently sputtering economy, last summer’s fires and this winter’s scant snowfall are all contributing to harder-than-usual times for Sun Valley.
All of this makes slack season less a time of rest and recuperation for valley retailers and more a time of cautious concern. Add to that the particular plight of bookstores in general, mine included, that face relentless pressure from online retailers, like Amazon, whose pricing creates an expectation for bargains that appeal to all of us looking to save money everywhere we can.
As pictures were taken in the back of the store, telling that tale, one couldn’t ignore the story unfolding up front: Teens coming into the bookstore after school, getting a hot chocolate or chai tea from the café while finding Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness on “their” shelf. Still other students were sitting and talking, doing homework. Parents with toddlers in-tow, were introducing them to books for the first time and launching them on a lifetime of adventure. A man with the title of a book of poetry by W.S. Merwin on the tip of his tongue pleaded, if only we could help him remember so he could get it and read it to his girlfriend. We did. Later in the day, a group would meet to play bridge and then we’d move furniture around for live music, a poetry reading or book club.
This is what a local bookstore is, and each local business in the community has its own version of this story. We cherish our customers not because they shop with us, but because they are us. Perhaps you learned to read in our children’s section, and maybe someday we’ll be selling your novel among the bestsellers. Or we met you when you were a baby, hired you in high school and we hope to be here for your children one day.
This is the story of community. This is why we have always urged people to shop locally whenever possible. With your help, there will always be an Iconoclast Books, along with other local businesses, to serve you. In our book, this is how we all will remain strong, no matter what man or nature throws at us, in the cruelest month or the kindest. And that is worth far more than a bargain.
LARB’s Naked Booksellers Program is a collaboration with independent bookstores to help tell their stories and broaden their visibility across the country and around the world. If you are a bookseller interested in participating, or know of a bookstore you think we should be talking about, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For a complete list of participating stores, please visit our Naked Booksellers tumblr page.