It was a tearful day for Colorado Springs book lovers on Monday morning when Dick and Judy Noyes officially announced that they will retire and close The Chinook Bookshop after 45 years.
"It's time," said Judy Noyes, now 72.
"We were determined to go out at our peak," added Dick Noyes, 74.
Opened on June 15, 1959, The Chinook (a name inspired by a line in A.B. Guthrie, Jr.'s book These Thousand Hills), like its owners, has always been a fiercely independent business that sought to make open-mindedness a part of its community mission.
"Our aim is to make available all points of view concerning the problems and issues of our time," reads the store's statement of principle, which hangs prominently behind the counter in the center of the store. "We are dedicated to the belief that censorship in all forms is damaging to a healthy society." This spirit of independence earned Chinook a reputation as one of the finest bookstores in the United States.
Long-time customers and friends of the store were incredulous. Many consider the landmark bookstore the intellectual heart of the city, and expressed emotions ranging from outrage to grief.
"Quitters! What the hell is there left!?" said one customer, only half-joking, before wishing the Noyes all the best in their retirement.
Many patrons wanted to know why the store won't be sold or passed on.
"We feel we set a pretty high standard in terms of quality and service; we don't feel like there's anyone else who could maintain it and we wouldn't want to see it change," Judy Noyes explained, adding that she didn't think it would be financially feasible to sell the store to the staff and that none of the Noyes children wanted to take over the business.
Others were concerned about what would happen to the beloved staff of expert "booksellers" ("not clerks," Dick noted emphatically). Claudia Pino, for example, has been the store's resident literary fiction expert since 1970 when she graduated from college.
"I'm stunned. I'm sad. I'm glad for Dick and Judy, but I can't imagine downtown without the Chinook," said Pino, who hopes to find work at the library. "I could not work for one of the chain bookstores. It's an entirely different way of approaching the book business. It's not like a grocery store; it's something that should be inhabited by book readers."
The impact that the loss of Chinook will have on the downtown economy remains to be seen, but City Councilman Richard Skorman, owner of Poor Richard's Bookstore, said that the loss would be both economic and cultural.
"It's a tremendous loss,: he said. "But more than that, it's the institution that Chinook has become -- in some ways it's a real anchor for the pedestrian culture. I think it'll leave a big gap, a big hole."
Skorman noted that, "independent bookstores are struggling all over the country. It's unfortunate, because I think people are losing the relationship they have with their booksellers."
Judy Noyes acknowledged that the declining economy was a factor in their decision to close the store. "I think it affects your thinking of the timing," she said.
The always amusing "Invisible Man" in the front window, a trademark of Chinook that they Noyeses started when the store opened, is now sweeping an empty floor in front of two windows filled with pictures of the shop's colorful 45-year history. He and the Chinook will disappear forever on June 15, the store's 45th anniversary. In the meantime, book lovers can enjoy a 30 percent discount on the store's entire inventory.
-- Noel Black