Every hour, a handful of customers come into The Bookmark at 3420 N. Anthony Blvd. to see if owner Lanni Ruiz Connelly is interested in buying their textbooks or maybe to find favorite authors or someone new to read.
Lately, they've also been coming in for a few hugs.
After 26 years, Connelly announced she is retiring Sunday. Her career has outlasted authors of used bookstore favorites such as Tom Clancy, Robert B. Parker, Lawrence Block, Robert Ludlum, Robert Jordan and Elmore Leonard, who have all passed on.
“It's just time,” she tells a familiar customer before giving a hug. “This business is six and sometimes seven days a week, and even when I'm not here, I'm always worried about the store.”
She's looking forward to taking more lunches with friends, heading to the lake more often and maybe following the Komets on a road trip.
There are many readers who think it would be a great retirement to buy a bookstore where they'll have plenty of books and time to peruse, but staff members are prohibited from reading in the store. Connelly said she has time to read only about one book a month at home, but she has a stack ranging from Nora Roberts, John Grisham and Lee Child to get through because, hey, she knew where to get them for a good price.
“I have a Rolodex in my head of books I want to read, fiction and nonfiction,” she said. “It kills me because every week there are new ones coming out. Customers have always liked turning me on to new authors.”
Whenever she takes a few minutes for a break, she'll read cookbook recipes or the back-cover descriptions of books during the course of the day.
Connelly was a 36-year-old office manager and advertising executive with Bowhunter magazine in 1993 when she bought The Bookmark – then in Time Corners – from Rita Gantz.
After moving the store, she had 500 square feet and maybe 2,000 books. Now there's 2,000 square feet and maybe 10,000 books, including a textbook business in the back that restructured everything and added layers of complexity.
At its height, 60 percent of the business was conducted online.
“I wasn't shocked,” said manager Will Richardson, who started working for Connelly 20 years ago as a Bishop Dwenger freshman. “I got the feeling that she was ready, and she was tired. She's a great person to work for, and she treats the employees like family. She will go to bat for you at any time, and she's more than willing to help out.
“It's a weight off her shoulders. This is the lightest I've seen her in a while.”
Besides her hugs, Connelly is also known for never turning away local authors, including the writer of this story.
Her major goal, Connelly said, was to make it 25 years. To her, that was a major accomplishment.
“I just wanted to prove to myself that I could make something out of nothing,” said Connelly, who is a mother to one son. “My mom always wanted to own a restaurant, and I came from a family of 14 brothers and sisters. They never did that, and I always felt like she had that regret. I never wanted to have any regrets.”
Now Richardson, Hannah Brinker and Jordan Lawson are the lone staff members. Despite continually decreasing numbers, Connelly still believes used bookstores can be successful as long as owners keep their overhead down, rent and utilities costs in particular. Technology and social media also play big parts.
“It was a hard decision,” Connelly said. “I love what I do, I love the store and I love the people. We have great customers. When people bring in their books, it's like Christmas all over again. We get to go through their books and see what they have, and it always sparks another conversation.”
Connelly won't say whether the store will be sold, only that her final day will be the end of March.
“The first month is going to be hard. I've been doing this for so long that I have a routine. It's going to be weird not coming into work and doing all the things that I do. I'm going to have to establish some good habits, but I'm definitely looking forward to some downtime.”