Jackson's Books: A Salem Stalwart

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The town of Salem, Oregon, is not a typical stop for many authors on tour, said Greg Millard, co-owner of Jackson's Books. But that hasn't stopped the 29-year-old bookstore from maintaining a full calendar of well-attended events, featuring readings and several writers-on-writing series presented by local authors.

Millard's route to bookselling was unusual. He had been working in Saudi Arabia as marketing manager for a Saudi holding company when, in 1985, his sister-in-law, Carole Fewx, proposed they both buy Jackson's Books, where she worked. Millard had no bookselling experience, but he did have an MBA from Willamette University, and, he said, he was "certainly a reader."

Millard returned to Salem, where he had attended graduate school and where his wife's family was based. "Bookselling has turned into a career," he said. "It's had its ups and downs, but [for the most part] it's been great."

Some of the most popular events at Jackson's are its various free writing series. Every second Thursday, Jackson's holds a Writers on Writing workshop, featuring local writers who lead standing-room-only discussions about everything from how to get the most out of a writers conference to the subjective truth of memoir.

Jackson's also holds a Third Thursdays Poets series, a monthly event "celebrating the art of poetry and giving prominent area writers a chance to share their favorite poetry, whether it's their own or someone else's." Each event has a theme. For September, it's "autumn" and the featured poets are Judith Montgomery (Red Jess, Wordtech Communications) and Paulann Petersen (A Bride of Narrow Escape, Cloudbank).

"The Writers on Writing series is pretty popular," Millard said. "We always have our regular crowd and some new folks. We serve wine and cheese, and usually about 35 to 40 people show up. The same thing with the Third Thursday Poets series. Poets read their own work or others, but it's not an open mic. We've kind of become the headquarters for that sort of thing."

The 4,500-square-foot "open and airy" store is in a 30-year-old building constructed as part of an urban renewal project on the edge of downtown Salem. Jackson's and several other independent businesses are situated around Mill Race Park, named for the creek that runs through it. A wall of windows overlooks the park.

The general bookstore has strong fiction, mystery, book club, and regional sections. "Whenever I run a sales report, at the top of the list are always book club books," said Millard. "We stock all the books for 20 to 30 local book clubs. Clubs come in to pick up their books, look at the other books and use them, too."

Customers are kept informed of the store's events and bestsellers through the newsletter, The Reader's Edge, and the store's Book Sense website. "I like that I can neglect the site, but know that it will be okay, because it's got national content," Millard said. "The data base is on there, so I don't have to mess with it, and I don't need to know HTML."

Millard has been participating in the Book Sense Gift Card Program since its launch. "When we first switched over [from gift certificates], our gift card sales jumped about 20 percent," he said. "Now sales have leveled off, but they're still very popular. We sell them everyday. There's always some reason to get a gift card -- someone's retired or it's someone's birthday. We always have them made up in popular denominations."

In his 22 years of bookselling, Millard said that, sadly, he's seen "every other independent [new book] bookstore in Salem go by the wayside." He noted with relief, however, "But we're still here. We're the last one left. I'm hoping we can keep doing it for a while. Why we survived while other indies have not is a good question. I suppose our customers would say that it is because we offer exceptional customer service, but I think it is just because we are stubborn." --Karen Schechner