Renee Becher Q&A: Inside perspective on Old Firehouse Books
Renee Becher has thrived as the prime event coordinator at Old Firehouse Books. Becher graduated with a degree in English from Colorado State University and followed her love of writing and reading to a career at the popular store. After three years, Becher left Fort Collins to head for New Zealand, but still felt the pull of the red building over 7,000 miles away. Sitting together at a small table above the bookstore’s lot, Becher talked all things about the literary community, the pull of Old Firehouse Books, and the staff who plays a key role in getting raved reviews.
“When you’re going into a bookstore to buy a book, it’s about the experience as well.”
Q: Kindles and E-books are becoming more and more popular as years go on. Do you think bookstores are going to become a dying breed?
A: I certainly don’t think that. We have customers come in, occasionally and that discussion kind of comes up and they maybe seem to be leaning towards that direction. But I personally don’t think that it’s ever gonna happen. I mean they might downscale a little, but I never think it’s gonna be like “Oh we’re just gonna stop printing books”. I think e-books and having a kindle, serves it place, but the number of people that I see come in that have both an e-reader of some kind, but they’re also coming in and buying books. Nothing compares to having an actual physical book in your hand. I think there’s enough people out there that, want to support the physical book industry. When you’re going into a bookstore to buy a book, it’s about the experience as well. You’ll get to talk the the booksellers and they’ll give you recommendations and they might turn you on something that you didn’t have before. It’s about that sense of place.
Q: You can’t just get interactions out of e-books and Kindles online.
A: It’s not quite the same!
Q: Old Firehouse Books is one of the most raved about bookstores in Fort Collins. What’s the hook?
A: Being bluntly honest, we’re one of the few bookstores in town. We’ve got Barnes and Nobles, Booklovers on the south side of town. Otherwise it’s us and Bizarre Bazaar and Indigo Rose, which has really weird hours and they’re exclusively used [books] as well. And the same with Wolverine Farm, they can have a good selection, but most of them are primarily used books, which again makes it tough to get the new titles coming out and all that kind of stuff. So I think just our size, for one, we have a pretty good selection. We carry new and used books, which again I think is a big draw, because then people can get new stuff that’s coming out or they can find a really good deal on a book that’s been out for years. We work hard to not just provide books to the community, we work [to] bring authors in and hosting events and , you know, book clubs and all that kind of stuff. It’s more like a full service package coming from us, as apposed to going to one of those other stores. That’s what I think, really is a big factor for us, being that really big present in the community.
Q: Not halfway or anything?
A: Yeah, you’ll get anything you want here, we’ll do our best.
Q: Old Firehouse Books has been around for almost 40 years. Does the store try and keep things up to date and fresh?
A: Definitely. We’ve got the indie bestseller list, that we’re always updating in the store so the new books that are coming out, the things that publishers are excited about are there for people to pick from. At the same time, we try and carry a good selection of all the classic, you know book’s that have just been timeless and always relevant throughout their existence. The same with our platform, we’re making sure that we can provide books online so people can order from us even if they don’t live in the state. We just kind of listen to what the community wants and what our customers are telling us and try to cater to them as best we can, as apposed to “oh no, we just do it this way and that’s it”. We try and pay attention to what’s going on and evolve with the rest of the world.
“We’re a bookstore, but we also have a lot more going on besides just selling books…”
Q: So as you were saying before you guys do author showcases and book clubs, is that one of key factors you focus on to draw people in, or?
A: It’s a big draw as far as, you know, people coming into the store because they know they can pick up a new books from us, that’s great. But if they can come and meet their favorite author at our store or at some event we put on, I think that’s an even an more exciting thing. Yeah, it’s just like that full package deal. We’re a bookstore, but we also have a lot more going on besides just selling books and I think that’s a big thing.
Q: Everything’s not just books, you guys do a little bit of everything?
A: Yes, lots more.
Q: The store really capitalizes on the employees offering insight and recommendations on books, do you think that sets you apart from other book vendors in the city?
A: Yes, I think so. Actually one of our employees used to work in Barnes &Nobles, and she was telling me that Barnes & Nobles does not really put a lot of emphasis on employees, you know putting their staff picks out there or their monthly picks. They kind of get one pick every month and that’s it. But we have several places in our store like you walk and there’s a shelf right there that is our staff picks for the month from everyone. We have our staff shelves, where there’s more selection of things that we are reading and we try to put up shelves toppers all over the store attached to books that a whichever bookseller really loved, to make suggestions. I think, also just knowing our store, we have a very diverse readership. We have a lot of people that are into sci-fi fantasy, a little into literary kind of stuff, and we have someone great with kids books. So you can kind of go in and ask anyone, they can kind of guide you from there. No matter what you’re looking for, you can come in and be able to get a couple recommendations for what to read. We work very hard to have that diversity.
Q: So when you’re looking for employees do you try and get a feel for what their readership is, before you’re like “Come on in?”
A: It’s certainly not a deciding factor. But it is always good when we get another person that reads more non-fiction stuff or history, apposed to a lot stuff we already read. It’s a good thing to have, you get excited when you find it.
Q: Fort Collins has a great writing community and book scene. Do you think Fort Collins serves as a creative hub for the literary world, or?
A: I would say, obviously you can’t compare it to a place like Denver, but at least I think that within the northern Colorado area, I think it’s definitely got a lot going on and there’s a lot of groups and people that are working to support that writing community. We’ve got several [authors] in the area that have already gotten bit more notoriety but there’s still just a bunch of people that are writing, that are creativity. I think there’s a lot of organizations, people in the area that are supporting that. They kind of feed off each other, you never know who’s gonna be the next J.K. Rowling and go off to greatness. And they’re like “Oh yeah they were from this tiny town in Colorado.” Yeah, it’s a good place to be, if you want to be a creative type.
Q: What is your goal for Old Firehouse Books in 2017?
A: I think the goal, obviously to continue serving the community and providing whatever we can and strengthening that literary hub that we have going on here and expanding on that. As far as the store, we want to continue doing good things and bringing in great authors to make an impact on all the publishers in New York. We’ve continued over the years to get bigger and bigger authors and kind of prove to them that we are a literary community. We have people that are interested in it and we can put on these big things and people will turn up. Especially, now that I’ve taken over doing the events, that’s something I’ve definitely focusing on. You know working to make an impact on people and say “Yeah we might be a kinda tiny store in a kinda tiny town but we have the means and the ability and we have the drive to make these big things happen, not just for us as a store, but for also for the community.”