Name: Barbara Chambers
Job: Manager at Bay Books
Overview: Chambers has held the top spot at Bay Books, a Coronado institution on Orange Avenue, since before it even opened its doors. The independent bookstore will celebrate its 20th anniversary next month. Chambers had been an acquaintance of the late Shirley Muller, the store’s owner, and Muller asked her to manage it before the opening in October 1991. “I remember walking in, my first minute, when there were no books, just fixtures,” Chambers recalls. Chambers, an avid reader who had long thought about owning her own bookstore, has run the store ever since. The store – once the site of a flower shop – has expanded twice and is now 4,000 square feet.
From out of the cold: Chambers, 70, was born and raised in a small town in the northwest corner of North Dakota, 17 miles from Montana (her mother’s home state) and 25 miles from Canada, where her father had emigrated from Ukraine. After going to school in Missouri and Canada, she came to California with her husband, a Marine posted to Camp Pendleton.
Business background: Once she moved west, she worked in both retail and wholesale (in the garment industry in Los Angeles). Though a bookstore was a new experience, her retail and wholesale skills translated. Plus, she loves books, especially cookbooks, but reads them all and considers herself “well read.”
Early to rise: Chambers is there to open the store at 9 a.m. six days a week. Of the 10 on staff, she’s the store’s only full-time employee, and handles a variety of responsibilities. She has no plans to retire.
Joy of the job: She says her job is “never boring,” relishes the positive vibes she gets from being around books and lovers of books, and cites what she calls the “wonderful ambiance” of the store itself. Customers visit from around the county, from Oceanside to Mission Hills, to get a cup of coffee, browse the aisles and sit at the tables outside. “We have people come in that are compelled to stop and tell us what a fabulous place this is,” she says.
Changing times: Chambers has watched bookstores – big chains and independents – fade away. Of the independents, she says, “There aren’t many of us left.” In adapting to a down economy and the rise of digital books, Bay Books now carries a smaller inventory and has begun selling titles through Google eBooks.
But she still sees familiar faces coming in to buy hard copies. The large children’s section, in back, remains popular with not only kids, but their parents and grandparents who love to bring them in to share the joy of reading (and buying) books. Shirley Muller died of cancer nine years ago, with the store passing to her son, Henry. Now, says Chambers, Henry’s wife Angelica will be in charge of Bay Books and is considering new ideas.
Two decades: Being in the same job 20 years please her. “It’s been absolutely wonderful getting to know so many people,” she says. “A lot of people walk in, I know what they like to read, what their children like to read. This store, it’s such a community effort to keep us going.”
Hail to the chief: Bill and Hillary Clinton visited the store in the early ’90s when Clinton was president and the couple vacationed in Coronado. Chambers says the Secret Service came in the week before, then one morning the Clintons arrived on their bikes wearing cycling gear and spent time looking around. Each bought a paperback. “At first they (Secret Service) wanted to close the store, but Bill said, ‘No, no, let the people stay.’ ” Arizona Senator John McCain also has been a frequent visitor, and even has done some book reviews for the store.
Seasons change: Once summer passes, locals delight in being able to find a nearby parking space but, says Chambers with a laugh, “That’s not a good sign for us. We couldn’t do without the tourists.”
Quotable: The best part of her job, Chambers says, “Is just being around books and being able to put the right books into the right hands. That’s the most rewarding.”