BUSINESS HAPPENINGS - April 2001
Back of Beyond Books
cited as the best bookstore in the West, Back of Beyond Books at
54 North Main, has become a legend in its own time.
Of course, thats sort of a natural outcome because the whole
idea for Back of Beyond Bookstore arose out of one Moabs most
legendary former residents and environmentalists, Edward Abbey.
After Abbeys death in March of 1989, friends held a memorial
service in Moab. Thats when Karilyn Brodell and Bruce Hayse,
the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, owners of Back of Beyond Books, met Jose
Knighton. Jose had worked at the Cosmic Airplane, a book, record
and jewelry store in Salt Lake City. Jose had already made up his
mind to leave the city and move to Moab. So when Karilyn and Bruce
proposed the idea of starting a bookstore in Moab, Jose was a perfect
choice to help launch and manage it. And the three shared a common
goal to build a store in the spirit and memory of Edward Abbey.
Indeed, the spirit of Abbey lives strongly at Back of Beyond. Advertisements
for the store state complete (almost) works of Edward Abbey.
Co-owner Hayse, a Wyoming physician, loves to track down rare books
on the West and sometimes some of his rarest of finds, first printings
of Edward Abbey and all but extinct books by the author, show up
in the rare book case at the store. An entire bookshelf is devoted
to Edward Abbey & Friends.
only is Back of Beyond a legend, it is also bucking the trend of
independently-owned bookstores being gobbled up by goliath chains
and dot coms. There are a good number of reasons why the store will
continue to buck the trend, believes Jose, manager of the store
for 11 years. Were in an ideal situation to remain strong
as an independent book store, says Jose. When people
are in Moab they want instant gratification. They want a book to
read on the river or in their motel rooms. They want to know about
the flowers, geology, and wildlife while theyre here. They
dont want to wait until they get back to their city to buy
The store has many resources that give it an edge when competing
in a market studded with large, mainstream book markets and mega-sized
dot coms. Co-owner Karilyn Brodell, manages the independent bookstore
Valley Books in Jackson Hole. Selling books in a similar market
and having three bibliophiles watch the trends adds a lot of punch
to Back of Beyonds success. We also have a lot of customer
loyalty in the inner-mountain West, says Jose. The store
is known for having a lot of depth in the areas of environmental
studies, natural history, and Native American studies. Because of
that, we get tons of repeat customers and mail orders because these
arent books that you can walk into major chains and buy. With
all the books those mega-stores have, they dont have much
of what we carry.
Jose points out that people have developed an emotional attachment
to Back of Beyond. The people who visit Moab and Back of Beyond
care very much about southeastern Utah. They love Moab, they want
to see the environment protected, and they know the store cares
about the same things they do, so theres a sort of symbiosis
The original store, which opened in February of 1990, celebrated
its grand opening upon the release of Abbeys last work of
fiction, Hayduke Lives, and on John Wesley Powells birthday.
The store was only 30 feet X 30 feet. Even then it was loaded with
books, although Brodell remembers clearly the first year of business
when the shelves seemed bare.
Moab blossomed, so did Back of Beyond. Doubling its size in the
same location in 1994, today it stocks even more titles and the
shelves are overflowing. You can always find Oprahs latest
book-of-the month, but most shoppers are looking for those hard-to-find
titles on western water issues, local history, or natural history
that they cant purchase at chain stores in the city.
Of course, Back of Beyond also carries every guidebook and map available
on regional rivers, 4X4 roads, hiking and biking trails, rock and
mountain climbing...you name it and you can find it!
The stores ambience is likely also part of the attraction.
Furnished with comfortable chairs and a sofa, people are often found
nestled on the sofa with a book or curled up on the floor checking
Like City Lights Books in San Francisco, Elliot Bay Books in Seattle,
Powells in Portland, or the Tattered Cover in Denver, Back
of Beyond in Moab has almost become a destination of its own.
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