Bookselling in the Original Las Vegas

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Tome on the Range Bookstore

Tome on the Range Bookstore, in Las Vegas, New Mexico, is having a good month: The store is celebrating its 10th anniversary and the honor of winning the Book-in-Hand Award from the New Mexico Book Association. Then, its sister store, Second Tome Around, specializing in used books, specialty kitchenware, and a cafe, is celebrating its third anniversary.

The "original Las Vegas," an historic town located 65 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico, is "where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains, where Victoriana meets adobe," said the witty Tome on the Range and Second Tome Around founder and owner, Nancy Colalillo. Originally from New Jersey and a family of food retailers, Colalillo renounced family tradition and, with a "flip of one page of the atlas," ended up in New Mexico.

Founded by Mexican settlers in 1835, Las Vegas was the first stop after Kansas for wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail, which ran through the heart of the town, and its location made it a significant way station for outlaws, as well as for Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. The town's colorful history is chronicled in the The Wildest of the Wild West by Howard Bryan (Clear Light). Among its distinctions, the county seat of New Mexico's San Miguel County was the location of a dental practice run by Doc Holliday and the site of a significant scene in the 1969 movie Easy Rider. The Rough Riders held their first reunion in Las Vegas, and historian Ralph Emerson Twitchell is said to have commented, "Without exception there was no town which harbored a more disreputable gang of desperadoes, and outlaws than did Las Vegas, New Mexico."

In 1996, the town of 15,000 was without a general bookstore, and Colalillo told BTW, "I couldn't be driving to Santa Fe every time I needed a book." To complement the town's used, antiquarian, and western specialty bookstores, Colalillo opened the 1,300-square-foot Tome on the Range in an 1880s commercial building on Bridge Street, the original Santa Fe Trail.

Nancy Colalillo with Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico.

At the time, she lacked experience in bookselling, but she told BTW, "Like everyone who loves to read, I wanted to own a bookstore. What I've learned," she said with a laugh, "is that owning a bookstore has absolutely nothing to do with reading."

Noting "the town is so into its history," Colalillo said, "Almost all of our book signings are about regional history." To meet the needs of Las Vegas' Latino majority, Tome on the Range stocks a wide selection of Spanish language dictionaries, grammar guides, and children's "step readers." The store also has poetry, young adult, children's, fiction, and nonfiction books in Spanish.

The store features a large Book Sense display, including bestsellers and picks. "One of the greatest things that Book Sense has done for us," Colalillo said, "has been to help sell hard cover books." Book Sense gift cards have "worked very well for us. We can compete with the chain stores for the customers who want to send gifts to people far away."

Across the street, at Second Tome Around, frequent book-themed breakfasts are held for young children, three to eight. The 2,000-square-foot store has a large outdoor deck, making it a perfect spot for children's events, large and small. The store also offers wireless Internet access and is a popular location for meetings.

This Saturday, Tome on the Range will be the site of the 10th anniversary party, with a guest list of 350 of the store's nearest and dearest friends, including its best customers. --Nomi Schwartz