In years past, I've managed to largely avoid doing any Christmas shopping at malls. The crowds, the crappy plastic music, the generic chain stores—it just doesn't seem worth the migraine. This year, though, I think I'm due for an attitude adjustment.
On the lower level of the Westside's Cottonwood Mall, in a small storefront next to J.C. Penney, an enterprising band of writers and publishers is opening its own cooperative on Monday, Nov. 22. New Mexico Books & More is the brainchild of Barbe Awalt and Paul Rhetts, the owners of LPD Press, a small, independent New Mexico publisher. The idea came to Awalt last spring during Independent Press Week. A lot of New Mexicans involved with small presses in our state were sitting around gabbing about common problems in their independent industry. One of the biggest problems, of course, was the difficulty in getting New Mexican books with New Mexican themes into New Mexican bookstores.
"There are lots of reasons why chains and independents can't carry every local book," says Rhetts. "They don't have enough space, or they might just not feature particular titles."
The duo decided that opening a cooperative during the holiday season would allow every local publisher and author who wanted to participate to do so for a minimal fee. It didn't take long to get their concept off the ground.
"We came up with a simple arrangement that would practically guarantee financial success," Rhetts says. "Everyone who wants to participate, pays a small fee to cover costs. They also agree to volunteer at the store."
Around 120 people have agreed to work at New Mexico Books & More. These volunteers will take care of everything from opening and closing the store to working the cash registers to assisting whiney, demanding customers like you and me.
New Mexico Books & More will have its official ribbon-cutting ceremony the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 26, at 9 a.m., traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. Both Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and Corrales Mayor Gary Kanin will be in attendance, and there are rumors that Gov. Bill Richardson will make an appearance as well. The store will remain open throughout the holiday season. During that six-week period, the coop will host around 90 different book signings and events by local authors and publishers. Rhetts says proceeds will then be donated to state literacy programs with a portion possibly held over to start up the coop again next year.
"In terms of the response we've had so far," he says, "it's already an overwhelming success. It just goes to show you that the book business in New Mexico is very strong, and the people involved are more than willing to partner with each other to make it even stronger."
This year, don't just buy local. Buy local books. As surprising as this may sound, there's now no better place to find them than at the Cottonwood Mall.