Third Street Books

The little bookstore that could

Voices From the Front: McMinnville’s Third Street Books rides out COVID-19 with home deliveries, curbside pickup, and mail order

Over the past decade or so, every time I see one of those The End of Books stories or yet another article about how Amazon is crushing small, family-owned businesses or how eBooks are rendering bookstores irrelevant, I’ll make a point of asking Sylla McClellan, who has owned and operated Third Street Books in downtown McMinnville since 2004, how her shop is doing.

The answer is usually positive, sometimes less so. Given how the odds are stacked against indie bookstores even in the best of times, Third Street Books stands out as a survivor. So far, at least. That’s why I thought the occasion of a pandemic might be a good time to check in.


OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


In Yamhill County, most of our restaurants are shut down, though a few have modified their menus for curbside pickup. Third Street’s crown jewel, McMenamins Hotel Oregon, is shuttered. When I had breakfast there a few days before the governor’s executive order closed restaurants statewide, I was the only one in the restaurant at 9 a.m. Third Street Books just down the block remained open to customers, but the next day, March 12, McClellan posted this on Facebook:

“I have never spent so much time thinking about public health and the impact on our economy that it can (and will) have on my business. The news is changing so fast I have a hard time keeping up. We’ve been wiping down door handles and counter-tops all week. No hugging, handshaking or coughing is allowed (only sort of joking)!”

Sylla McClellan (right) laid off her staff at Third Street Books when the coronavirus forced the shop to close its doors, but has hired back one employee. Emily Kelly (left) hosts online story times, streaming Thursday mornings on Facebook. Photo by: David Bates
Sylla McClellan (right) laid off her staff at Third Street Books when the coronavirus forced the shop to close its doors, but has hired back one employee. Emily Kelly (left) hosts online story times, streaming Thursday mornings on Facebook. Photo by: David Bates

There’s always been a strong “shop local” culture in McMinnville, which clearly helps stores such as Third Street Books. McClellan is fortunate enough to run a bookstore in a city that likes to read. When New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, were here in February to plug their book, more than 800 people showed up. Anecdotally, it seems there’s a high concentration of writers, artists, and teachers who, along with many others, must be regularly satiated with reading material — now, more than ever. Via email, McClellan and I talked about how you run a bookshop during a pandemic. The exchange below has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start at the beginning, just to give readers some context about how Third Street Books was positioned as the pandemic hit. Give us the quick version of the store’s origin and history, how you came to start it.

McClellan: In 2004, I purchased the then-named The Book Shoppe on Third. We opened in early January of that year with fresh paint as Third Street Books. I’ve always been grateful to be in a community that values having access to books. The downturn of ’08 didn’t really hit us until 2011. It was tough, but we learned how to slim down, work hard, and survive. That experience will be helpful now.

How was the shop doing before COVID-19? It seems like every time I’ve asked over the years how things are going there, you seem pretty upbeat.

We were solid before mid-March. We had a great staff of Real Professional Booksellers, as I like to call everyone, with a combined bookselling history of over 50 years. We were moving forward with new ideas; author visits to schools, tiptoeing into expanding our events offerings, and getting out of debt! Now all that has changed.

Continues…

Yamhill County calendar: Assume it’s canceled

Things are changing daily, but most local art and cultural events have been closed or postponed because of COVID-19 concerns

The response to COVID-19 in Yamhill County, as elsewhere in Oregon and around the country, is moving almost too quickly to track. Already, we’ve had one case reported in the area. By the time I finish writing this, something likely will have changed. By the time you finish reading it, unanticipated developments may have added another brick in the wall of our new normal.

“Call Me,” by Susan Kunitsky (oil, 8 by 10 inches), on display at The Gallery at Ten Oaks, is an apt image for our social-distancing times.

Right now, the new normal means this: Assume it’s canceled, regardless of what “it” is. Nevertheless, you should check websites or call ahead to make sure, because as of this writing, not everything is canceled. So far, some of the local cultural scene’s biggest COVID-19 casualties include:

  • The 12th annual Newberg Camellia Festival, an all-day celebration of Newberg’s official flower and its Asian origins. The Chehalem Cultural Center has traditionally played a key role in organizing it in partnership with Chehalem Parks and Recreation District. Originally set for April 19, the event is canceled.
  • The Terroir Creative Writing Festival, scheduled for April 18, has been postponed. Organizers are working with the host site, Chemeketa Community College’s McMinnville campus, to nail down a new date.

Continues…

The family that vanished

Author JB Fisher talks about a 61-year-old Portland mystery, this week at Third Street Books in McMinnville

On Thursday evening, Portland author JB Fisher will return to his one-time home of McMinnville to read from and discuss his latest book, Echo of Distant Water: The 1958 Disappearance of Portland’s Martin Family. You’ll find him downtown at Third Street Books, which has proved over the years that small-town indie bookstores can not only survive, but thrive. The Sept. 26 event begins at 6:30 p.m., and the store has a plentiful supply of copies for purchase.

Fisher is the author of another Portland true-crime book, Portland on the Take: Mid-Century Crime Bosses, Civic Corruption & Forgotten Murders, written with JD Chandler and published in 2014. That volume tells the tale of how gangsters gained control of some of the city’s unions during the Red Scare that followed the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike.

It turns out his new book was born right under my nose.

The author, teacher, and historian and his family used to live around the corner from us in McMinnville before they moved to Portland about six years ago. Our kids played together occasionally, so it turns out that I’ve actually visited the house where Echo of Distant Water has its origins.

Portland author JB Fisher came to true-crime via a background in Shakespeare and English Renaissance literature. He notes that popular literature of that time is “full of sensational stories: infanticides and hangings and the seedy underworld of ‘rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars.’”
Portland author JB Fisher came to true-crime via a background in Shakespeare and English Renaissance literature. He notes that popular literature of that time is “full of sensational stories: infanticides and hangings and the seedy underworld of ‘rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars.’” Photo by: Robert Delahanty

Digging through boxes in the garage of the ranch-style home, Fisher found a stack of newspapers left behind by the previous owner, and that was where he first learned about the Martin family. That story goes back to 1958, and boiled down to the most basic facts, it goes like this:

A few days before Christmas of that year, Ken and Barbara Martin of Portland and their three daughters climbed into their 1954 Ford station wagon and headed up the Columbia Gorge to find a Christmas tree. (Their 28-year-old son was stationed in New York with the Navy.) They had lunch at a Hood River diner, then apparently headed back to Portland.

Then they vanished.

Evidence emerged about a month later suggesting that the car had plunged off a cliff into the Columbia River near The Dalles. Early in May 1959, the bodies of the two youngest girls were discovered — one in the Columbia Slough near Camas, Wash., and the other near the Bonneville Dam spillway. The car was never found.

Continues…

Falling for wine country arts

Yamhill County kicks into fall with a bevy of gallery shows, a four-night festival of ancient Greek drama, an unsolved mystery, and more

It’s time to roll out the phrase we’ve all been waiting for: Fall Arts Season. In Yamhill County, it’s clearly arrived, it’s busy, and there’s a lot to get through. New visual art exhibitions, live theater, a lecture, live music and an author reading. And that’s all before we even get to the Art Harvest Studio Tour the first week of October. For a preview of that 2-weekend art celebration, be sure to drop by the free show at the Chehalem Cultural Center, where the work of all this year’s artists is on display.

Here’s the balance of September for you, taking it in chronological order, starting with exhibits that opened earlier this month.

*

One of 50 woven fabric drawings by Deb Perry-Guetti in a new exhibit at
the Marilyn Affolter Fine Art Gallery in McMinnville.

MARILYN AFFOLTER GALLERY: For the last two years, Deb Perry-Guetti has worked on a series of 50 woven fabric drawings that explore “our interconnectedness and the beauty in our flaws.” The pen and ink drawings are rendered on Kitakata rice paper and suspended in custom frames by clothespins, allowing the light to embrace the organic fragility of the paper.

Continues…