Tom Beans grew up in suburban Philadelphia and moved West in 1993, landing a job at Tower Books in San Mateo, California. He moved to Bend in 2011 and, after stopping by Dudley’s one day in 2014, happened to speak to the owner and suddenly had a new job. A few months later, Beans purchased the shop. Bend Magazine sat down with Beans to talk the rewards and challenges of owning a bookstore, and the future of print.
Rumors continue to fly about the death of books. What is your feeling on the future of the printed book industry?
First it was the big box stores that were going to wipe out indie bookstores. Then it was the combo of Amazon and the rise of eBooks. Amazon is the 900-pound gorilla in the room, but eBook sales continue to decline year over year. We all spend too much time on screens, and the resurgence of indie bookstores is in part due to screen-time backlash. Printed books aren’t going anywhere.
How did you survive the pandemic closures of last year?
Like just about everyone else we were closed from mid-March until the end of June. It was usually just me sitting in a dark shop fielding emails and phone calls. We had plenty of customers coming by for curbside pickup and we did (and still do) free local delivery. What was a real difference maker for us was the launch of our online sales platform partnership with Bookshop.org. Online sales paid our rent from April to June which was a huge relief. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of our community rallying around us like they did at a time when we were all struggling.
Dudley’s has been mentioned in big media. How did that come about and what was the impact on your store?
I wish I could say I had a direct hand in that, but I think it’s just a factor of Bend growing into a national tourist destination or, in the case of The Guardian from the United Kingdom, a worldwide one. Those pieces came out as things were really taking off in Bend, but I still hear folks mention, “We read about you in The New York Times,” and that’s pretty cool.
How do you see your relationship to the Bend community?
Pre-Covid, Dudley’s was a meeting place for so many different members of our community, and we loved providing that space. I’m really proud that we’re the first bookstore in the country to join one percent for the Planet and all of that money goes to local environmental non-profits doing great work here in Central Oregon.
Tell us about your daily rewards and challenges.
There’s so much I love about this job. I get to talk to folks about books I love all day long. I get to meet interesting people, both locals and folks from all over the country. If there’s one single thing I had to choose, it’s deciding what books to bring into the shop. I spend just as much time reading about books as I do reading them and, almost daily, I get to apply that knowledge and try to choose titles that I think our customers will find interesting. We don’t just stock popular titles and I try to choose books that will push people a bit and maybe expand their horizons beyond their normal comfort level.
As for challenges, there’s this misconception that owning a bookstore is an easy dream job for any booklover, but the reality is the “business” part has to come first. What really made the difference for me was the two-year Small Business Management program at COCC. For any curious local small business owners, I can’t recommend the program highly enough.
Describe your dream future for indie bookstores.
The “Shop Local” message continues to spread and there’s a great little indie bookstore in towns all across the country.
Dudley’s Top Five Bestsellers of 2020:
1. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
2. Untamed by Glennon Doyle
3. Promised Land by Barack Obama
4. Overstory by Richard Powers
5. How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan