Tecolote’s New Owner(s)

After 15 years as manager of Tecolote BookShop, former MJ book columnist Mary Sheldon is the Montecito institution’s proud new owner. Peggy Dent, who’d owned Tecolote for the past 17 years, sold the store to Ms Sheldon; the deal was sealed as of June 1. Mary, who admits that owning and operating an independent bookstore in this day of discount chains and mass wholesalers is “a challenge,” was able to purchase the shop with the help of three book-loving partners: Montecito residents Herb Simon and Len Freedman, and Austin Texas-based Marc Winkelman.

“I want people to know,” Mary says during an interview on the Village Green outside Tecolote, “that without them [her partners] Montecito might have lost its only bookstore.” It goes without saying that she hopes – and believes – the community will support Tecolote going into the future, as it has in the past.

Mary says her partners, although regularly involved in major business undertakings that dwarf any interest they may have in Tecolote (Mr. Simon and his brother, for example, developed the Mall of America outside Minneapolis; they also own the Indiana Pacers), “are very interested in books and have always been good customers at Tecolote.” She reveals that before our interview, she asked one of them if he’d mind having something in the paper, and he answered, ‘You know, we’re happy to be involved, but you’re the book store.’

“Mr. Simon has always been interested in the book store,” Mary continues, “and told me a number of times that if Peggy was interested in selling, he’d like to know about it. So, I let him know about it. We’re now partners; it’s Tecolote BookShop Incorporated.”

Before becoming manager at Tecolote, Mary managed Chaucer’s at Loreto Plaza for six years, and before that ran the bookstore at Santa Barbara Botanical Garden. She has a degree in Environmental Studies, with an emphasis on Botany, earned at UCSB. Mary has lived in Montecito “on and off for most of my life, since 1953.” She was born in San Fernando, California.

Ruminating over the difficulty of competing with her larger big-box counterparts, Mary notes that “anybody investing in an independent book store is really doing it as a labor of love. Book selling is a fairly unique business,” she continues. “I like to think of it as a profession. I don’t know of anyone who runs an independent book store that doesn’t absolutely love books. We’re all willing,” she asserts, “to take the reward we get from choosing the right book for the right customer as our pay, instead of making tons of money.”

To illustrate that point, she observes that one of the things she discovered was how tough it is to change ownership with vendors and publishers. “They’re not used to that,” Mary says. “They’re used to businesses going out of business, not changing hands.”

In addition to her partners, Mary credits two others for helping preserve Tecolote and making it the community resource it is: Penny McCall and Ali Bush, her two longtime co-workers.

Penny has a Master of Library Science degree (MLS), and is a fully qualified librarian. “She’s very creative, very artistic, and she knows a lot about the book business,” Mary proffers. Penny ran the Santa Barbara Museum of Art bookstore for over twenty years. Ali was an elementary school teacher and “is great in the children’s section. She loves doing displays, doing the windows, and being creative that way.” Ms Sheldon fully credits the two for the bookstore’s longevity and popularity. “It would be hard to give as good a service and to run the bookstore without them,” she says.

Although Mary plans “a little bit of re-decorating; maybe get some new lighting in, something like that,” she is cautious about altering what is obviously a successful formula. “Just freshen it up a bit, nothing drastic,” she reiterates.

The 1,400-square-foot shop contains about 12,000 books (including duplicates) and perhaps as many as 9,000 individual titles. There could be more, but a quick perusal reveals that the highest shelves are completely devoid of books. “None of us can reach the top shelf,” Mary smiles owlishly (all three ladies are 5’ 4” or smaller).

The Little Giant That Can

Tecolote may be a small bookstore, but it does things the giants can’t. “We work with a very large wholesaler who covers the whole United States,” Mary explains, “so we can… let’s say you come in on a Tuesday, I can have a book for you by Thursday, if it’s in stock. And, pretty much, if we’re out of it, and the wholesaler is out of it, and everyone else is out of it, then nobody is going to be able to get it for you. We don’t carry as many of a single title as a lot of the bigger stores would, but we can get it for you, usually in less than five days.”

As a customer myself, I asked Mary some months ago to obtain a copy of Winston Churchill’s “History of the English Speaking Peoples,” which has been long out of print. She was not only able to find the entire four volumes for me, she also offered a choice of condition and price.

“A lot of people do ask for books that are out of print, or not readily available,” she says, noting that what she does in response is a very fast search to see if it’s available – and then gives a customer an idea of the price range. She’ll follow that up by reading all the descriptions of the book’s condition and order the book based upon what the customer has indicated. “When it comes in, I’ll call you. If you don’t like the condition or it’s not what you wanted, I send it back.” She charges a flat ten dollar fee over and above the price of the book for that service, plus postage (usually between $3.50 and $4.50). She admits people can do it themselves, but that because of her extensive knowledge of suppliers, generally, a customer is safer going through her.

Self-Published Authors Welcome Too

The famous and not so famous have come through Tecolote’s doors to sign and sell their books. Authors as varied as Sue Grafton (who has a book coming out in December), T.C. Boyle, Barnaby Conrad, Kendall Conrad, Pamela Vincent, Petrine Day Mitchum, Jonathan Winters, Duke Vincent, Daryl Hickman, and scores of others have held book-signings in front of Tecolote. “We tend to get people that are local authors, and it’s a nice place to have something like that,” Mary says.

Even self-published authors are welcome to try their luck at Tecolote. “I’ll take just about anything on consignment. I figure if someone has put enough time and expense into a book, it deserves to have a little bit of space in a bookstore.” As for those book signings, “If you have a book, you can come in and ask me if you want to do a book signing,” Mary advises. She and her two-woman crew will supply the books, tables, tablecloths, napkins, plates, glasses… “whatever you need. The author supplies the party and the people.”

Mary was the first person this journalist ever heard mention two books that have gone on to become publishing phenomena: “Harry Potter” and “The Da Vinci Code.” She was way ahead of the curve on both, so when regular customers come in to ask: “What’s new?” or “What do you like?” the Tecolote crew really does know.

“We do. All of us read. Constantly,” Mary acknowledges. “I put in two or three hours a day, when I’m not at work, on my own time. And I know Penny and Ali do the same. If we’re not reading an actual book, we’re reading reviews, articles in magazines, short stories written by authors that have collections, that sort of thing.”

So, the message is: support your independent book store?

“Absolutely. You’re getting a good deal when you come to Tecolote,” Mary concludes with absolutely no hint of boastfulness. “You’re getting access to a lot of information,” she adds.

Tecolote Bookshop, 1470 East Valley Road (805-969-4977) is open Monday through Friday 10 am to 5:30 pm; Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, closed Sunday.

Fred Sidon Receives French Honor

Philippe Larrieu, Consul General of France, Los Angeles, was there to confer upon Frederick Robert Sidon, former president of Opera Santa Barbara, the honorable title of “Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Merite,” and formally decreeing Fred as a Knight of the National Order of Merit. For the last ten years, Fred has been president of Santa Barbara’s French Network, a social group whose members speak French and meet regularly. The event took place at La Cumbre Country Club in Hope Ranch. Sitting by his side with a blend of humility and pride was Fred’s wife of 48 years, Diane. During the event, UCSB Professor of French and Associate Vice Chancellor Ronald Tobin announced triumphantly that “French would not be dropped at Santa Barbara High” (it had been proposed, due to lack of funds). Also present were Odile Froument, Cultural Attaché of the Consulate General of France, and Marie and Mignonne Profant, whose dad, Marie attested, spoke French and had a lifelong love affair with France. Mignonne, a former opera singer who now performs a French Cabaret Act professionally, provided entertainment, along with Titiana Herzog and Deborah Bertling.

“Francophile is not a malady,” Fred quipped upon receiving the honor. “Loving France is an acquired taste, like Scotch.” Sidon commented that the La Cumbre lunch was “a heck of a good meal,” and that “the great French wines (brought by Mr. Larrieu himself) included Champagne, Graves, and a Chateau Condat.

Also in attendance was a reporter from Le Figaro, one of France’s leading morning newspapers.

Montecito Rotarian Of The Year

Jennifer Goddard-Combs has been named Rotarian of the Year by Rotary Club of Montecito club president Jeff Kerns 2006-2007 and the board of directors. Founded in 1954, the Rotary Club of Montecito has only presented this award 15 times.

Ms Goddard-Combs has been a member of the Rotary Club of Montecito for the past 12 years and served as the club's president in 2001-2002; she’s also been a program chair, a member of the club's board of directors and foundation, in charge of public relations, and has headed club fundraisers.

Ms. Goddard-Combs is a two-time recipient of the Paul Harris Fellow Award, the International Rotary Foundation's way of expressing appreciation to individuals who make substantial contributions to humanitarian and educational programs.

In addition to Rotary, Ms Goddard-Combs teaches public relations at UCSB extension and Santa Barbara City College Adult Ed., and heads The Goddard Company Public Relations.

Rotary Club of Montecito meets every Tuesday noon, at the Montecito Country Club. For more information, please contact Paul Kremser, 2007-2008 Club president, at 805-963-4264.