To Andy Weinberger, proprietor of Readers’ Books, the bookstore is more than just a career; it is something that has allowed him to chase dreams. Purchasing the store began on a whim, and with nostalgia for home. Before starting the store, Weinberger and his now-late wife, Lilla, were living in New England, missing their former home in California. When visiting family in Sonoma in 1991, the Weinbergers spotted a New England-style bookstore in a shopping plaza — the perfect location and feel. They snapped it up. Going into the book business had always been a goal of Weinberger’s, but he did not want to compete with a friend’s bookstore back in New England, so they bought the store in Sonoma, packed up, and thus Readers’ Books was born.
Today, Readers’ Books is a staple and the lone independent bookstore of the Sonoma area. After 30 years in operation, the store has become an institution. When Weinberger first started, Sonoma was at a turning point, moving from an agricultural community to a tourist destination. From the beginning, Readers’ Books became involved in the community. They host author talks, community events, and give-back programs. For teacher appreciation week, they hand-deliver books to schools. They even help the local high school sell tickets for plays. In today’s world of virtual events, Readers’ Books continues to hold events and book talks online.
One of the events Readers’ Books that Weinberger remembers most fondly involved a contest with poet Bill Moyers’s The Language of Life. The publisher held a national contest for the best promotion of poetry in their town, with the winning store receiving a personal visit from Moyers. Readers’ Books went all out: they marched in the Independence Day parade reciting Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” Lilla gave away poetry at the local movie theater, and they stuffed poems in bags at the local supermarket. Their efforts paid off. Readers’ Books won the contest, showing how mighty and passionate their small town could be. For years after, spreading a love for poetry became a tradition for the store.
Like the rest of the COVID-era economy, bookselling took a turn in 2020. Readers’ Books quickly shifted their customer strategies, with contactless delivery and utilizing their outdoor garden space for contactless pick-ups, as well as outdoor events. They have found that fiction has been popular, especially books that read well in book club settings. Nonfiction, like cooking, wine, gardening, and travel, are some of the other best-selling genres. Throughout his ownership of Readers’ Books, Weinberger has enjoyed learning what types of books sell and which books store visitors are interested in.
After owning the store for 30 years, Weinberger’s aim is to leave it in good hands when he is no longer able to run it. He wants someone who will treasure it the way he and his late wife did.
Owning the store has allowed Weinberger to follow another passion: writing. Long before he had even conceived of Readers’ Books, Weinberger was a writer. The store allows him to write novels without having a depend on their publication for a paycheck. His first novel, An Old Man’s Game, published in 2019, and his second, Reason to Kill, soon followed in 2020. With pride, Weinberger states that his books are some of the most popular sold at Readers’ Books; the store sold more copies of his novels than popular fiction like the Harry Potter series.
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All images courtesy of Barbara Hall.