New Chapter, Familiar Names as Orinda Books Changes Hands

(Sally Hogarty, Photographer)
Longtime customer, and then Orinda Books employee, Pat Rudebusch recently took ownership of the local bookstore.

    Pat Rudebusch had been a regular customer at Orinda Books since moving to the city 25 years ago. One day four years ago, she got an unusual phone call from Maria Roden, the bookstore owner.
    “She asked, ‘I’m wondering if you would like to work at the store. You’re friendly and you like to read,’” Rudebusch recalled.  
    Now, Roden is handing over the keys to Rudebusch, who becomes the new owner effective Oct. 1.
    Roden’s timing was perfect – then and now. 
    When she was first hired, Rudebusch had just given up her job at PBS where she helped run pledge drives and secure endowments. She needed to stay busy, and the bookstore job was perfect. The store held fond memories for Rudebusch who had spent many hours there while her daughters, Katherine and Jane, were growing up.
    This year, with Roden planning to retire, Rudebusch says she thought about buying the store but didn’t want to do it alone. When she mentioned this to Katherine, Rudebusch says her daughter became sad.
    “She said, ‘This is my childhood bookstore,’” Rudebusch said. “So I thought, huh, this means a lot to her somehow. I was reminded about how six or nine months ago, a mom came in, new to town, and said I want my children growing up knowing what bookstores are.”
    “I thought this is such an important part of the community,” Rudebusch says. “It has to stay here.”
    In another sign of fate, Katherine has been working at a bookstore in Santa Cruz while completing graduate school. In November, she plans to come back to Orinda and manage the store with her mom. 
    Except for Roden’s departure and the addition of Katherine to the 13-member staff, Rudebusch says she hopes the change in ownership is seamless. Rudebusch says eventually she hopes to look at adding weekend events for people but isn’t planning any immediate or dramatic changes. The store, she says, is successful, vibrant and well-supported by residents.
    “We are fortunate to live in a community of people who are highly educated and value education. And what’s the cornerstone of education? It is literacy, books. We are part of a community that values education. I’ve thought about it a lot,” says Rudebusch.
    Orinda Books was founded 42 years ago by five local women who felt the city needed a bookstore. Roden has worked at the store since 2006 and purchased it with her husband, Danny, in 2014. She says it has evolved into a meeting place for Orindans.  
    “People have been coming to the store for years and years,” Roden says, noting that locals understood the importance of supporting downtown businesses. “That’s become much more in people’s thoughts. They are more aware of shopping locally to keep downtown vibrant and alive. It keeps local shops going and people get to meet each other.”
    The idea of shopping local, in fact, is behind a wave of success for independent bookstores across California and the United States, according to Calvin Crosby, executive director of the Sonoma-based Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, of which Orinda Books is a member.
    There are more independent bookstores today than there were in 2008, Crosby says, adding the perception that independent bookstores are vanishing is a myth fueled by the failure of Borders  
    “Borders closed because they made bad decisions, not because they were book sellers,” Crosby says. “The economic impact of 2008 impacted all retail.”
    The crash, however, forced independent book sellers to engage in better business practices, including educating consumers, Crosby says.
    “We buy differently now. If we don’t have a book in we can get it within 24 hours,” Crosby says. “Localism itself is a huge plus. The educated consumer understands that by buying local, money stays in the community.”
    Another key to success is for bookstores to become part of the community, something Orinda Books has mastered, Crosby says. “It is a great store,” he says. “It’s a phenomenal place to shop.”
    The store organizes dozens of events every month, from story time for toddlers to hosting book clubs to sponsoring author readings that include lunch – one of the most popular events, according to Roden.
    In October, Orinda Books will be the first East Bay bookstore to take part in the 20th anniversary of Litquake, San Francisco’s annual literary festival. Eight local writers will read debut stories developed with the Diablo Writer’s Workshop. The event takes place 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 17 and will be hosted by the co-founders and teachers of the workshop, Orinda Books bookseller Janine deBoisblanc and her partner Andrea Firth. 
    And then there was the special event last month – Roden’s farewell party before she heads off to make Carmel Valley her (almost) full-time home. She says she plans to keep an apartment in Orinda and visit often as her son, Jacob Roden-Lowe, teaches second grade at Del Rey Elementary School. 
    “It’s just dawning on me how much I’m going to miss it all, the customers, the reps, the book world,” she says. “I wish I could drag them all with me.”

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