March 8, 2000
Beginning of the Road
By Dane Sorensen
Life is a journey that starts with no maps, no signs, no shortcuts. Sometimes the path seems to straighten and life seems predictable, planned and easy. Then potholes can come and make the ride uneasy. An unseen turn can reveal a dead end. A new course must be picked, yet the choices available seem less than the last course change. That is the curse of growing older, yet the journey will continue because there is no turning back. Life is a one way affair.
It is a brave heart that can face change. It is even a braver heart that can evoke change and cause it to hurry on. For four years my wife has stubbornly run a small “Parnassus without wheels” as Anne Swensen called it back in 1997. Parnassus is the mountain which was the residence of the nine muses. Christopher Morley in 1917 wrote a little tome called “Parnassus on Wheels” which is about a redheaded lover of books who went around in a book-filled wagon selling, nay, preaching to the world to read good books.
Bear Paw Books has been my wife’s fulfillment for her love of books. She has had a love affair with books for as long as I have known her. I am surprised we didn’t meet in a bookstore. Instead, we met at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts – which is as close to Parnassus as you can get to in Minneapolis. To this day we still mourn the fact that we don’t have a house big enough for all our books to be out.
To rescue a dying bookstore was a chance she could not pass. In four years she has reshaped the store to reflect the spirit of the town. She has enjoyed turning unsuspected tourists into avid readers about our beautiful area with titles such as “The Root Beer Lady” or “Chased by the Light.” She has enjoyed turning unsuspecting Elyites into avid readers by selling them titles from the classics to the best sellers.
It has been fun hosting authors, live radio shows, musical events, workshops, and other fun events in the bookstore. On top of the books it has been fun finding toys for kids that are not only fun, but evoke curiosity and thought. She has enjoyed the fact that the bookstore allowed her to have the time to do the Inventor’s Congress at Washington Elementary. Candy has enjoyed typesetting the elementary parent’s newsletter as well.
The only problem has been time. Time has taken its toll on both my wife and myself. Shortly after we purchased the bookstore my wife was diagnosed with a form of arthritis that attacks both her knees and hands. The living with constant pain has become part of her life. This has resulted in using more employees to diminish the constant walking and carrying of books. The downsize is that more employees cuts down her paycheck.
I joined my wife in the constant pain club last summer when I jumped 30 inches and landed in St. Mary’s Hospital. Despite the good efforts of medicine, I cannot completely straighten my right leg. It has limited strength, which diminishes, as the day grows long.
It has come time to sell the bookstore and let someone else continue to show visitors the magic of books. Retail work belongs to the able bodied. With only a few part time employees the business can make a good livable wage. Like most retail in Ely, you won’t get rich, but you won’t be bored.
I know my wife will miss Bear Paw Books. It was and is a fun place to be. She will miss going over the advance catalogs that show all the coming releases. She will miss the book shows in Minneapolis, but it is time to try and concentrate on our needs. She will miss talking to the many book lovers in Ely that support and prefer an independent bookstore. I hope to work on my bad leg this summer. First, to build up strength and next to increase the joint flexibility. My wife has heard of a new therapy for her knees and joints. However, with a business to run, she does not have the time to pursue this therapy.
Change is a two-edged sword. It can bring good things or bad. I am hoping that by lessening our day to day responsibilities we can regain some of the vigor that time has taken from us. Only time will tell whether we have made the right move. We have both been blessed with an entrepreneurial attitude on life. We will come up with something new. As an optimist, I always feel the best is yet to come.