Interview with a Bookstore: Fact & Fiction
Bookselling in Big Sky Country
Barbara Theroux opened Fact & Fiction in 1986, having worked at The Student Book Corporation at Washington State University and at The Bookstore at the University of Montana. After 14 years in college stores and several years’ experience with American Booksellers Association panels, schools and service on the Board of Directors, Barbara thought it was time to explore opening an independent bookstore in downtown Missoula, Montana. “As I researched, my philosophy was to keep moving forward until there was a red light—finding none, I took a deep breath and proceeded. There was support from sales reps, authors, fellow booksellers and, eventually, the bank.”
In 1998, the store moved three blocks to its present location with the help of Missoula readers and their book carts, wheelbarrows, and hand carts. The entire inventory was moved and on the shelves in three hours! In 2007, Fact & Fiction became part of the family of businesses owned by The Bookstore at the University of Montana, where a second location opened.
What’s your favorite section in the store?
The front door, the place where all people—authors, customers, employees, lost tourists—choose to enter. But to really answer your question, fiction is my favorite and the store’s largest section.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
More flat tables to display favorite titles and signed editions and more chairs to sit and read. A flexible space for book clubs, writers groups and small events to be held… I always thought the train depot at the end of the block would be a great literary center, the bookstore on one side with a café and offices for literary groups on the other, with a meeting room, event center in the center.
What do you do better than any other bookstore?
Read?! All the booksellers are readers and love to recommend books. Some of us have a great collective memory for past events, and Montana related books. We also strive to be honest, not only about books we do not like, but on the realities of customer service and ordering books. In Montana, it is hard to predict delivery times—phone calls and western distribution centers help—but books will not be here by the weekend, if you ask late Wednesday afternoon.
Who’s your weirdest regular?
All customers are weird and wonderful in their own way! The person who calls from outside the store, with a sleeping child in the back seat, ‘can you come to the car and get my credit card?’ The woman who buys hundreds of dollars’ worth of books, recites her credit card number, asks for gift wrapping and plans to come to the back door in a few hours to pick up the boxes. The young man who orders poetry and when he comes to pick up his books, his hair color and glasses always match—whether they are pink, green, or blue. The older woman from England who calls to order signed editions for her husband’s birthday. The child who saw the new Wimpy Kid title at the recent school bookfair and now has saved his allowance to buy it. My son who wants to know if I received a galley of the book his friend wrote.
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the store?
Several things come to mind, including the grand opening of the store when the principal of my son’s school called to say that he had fallen off the swing and needed to go to the hospital. The principal took him to the emergency room, I helped cut the ribbon, then gave a friend a crash course on the cash register and went to the hospital.
And selling books via candlelight and flashlight with a cash bag when the power went out during an author event…
What’s your earliest memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?
I grew up with books in my home and became a regular library user at an early age, there were no bookstores in the small towns I lived in, in Pennsylvania. I received books via the mail as gifts and as a member of The Weekly Reader Book Club. My first wonderful memory of a bookstore was Scribner’s on Fifth Avenue in New York City, which was always my dream model of a bookstore—those wonderful ladders and all the shelves! And the steps down into the world of children’s books.
If you weren’t running/working at a bookstore what would you be doing?
I trained to be a school librarian, which I did for two years before discovering bookselling. So, I suppose I would be working in a library. When I retire I plan to volunteer at school and public libraries.
What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?
The people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen. There is no end to the creativity of a bookstore, no obstacle that cannot be met by asking, seeking and sharing, no words to totally express my gratitude.
SLIDESHOW: Fact & Fiction Staff Recommendations
Fact & Fiction is located at 220 N Higgins, Missoula, MT 59802.