Sheila Butterworth from Lancashire, who’d come to the states with barely a nickel, but eventually managed to have five kids and a long, happy marriage to Harold. After their nest was empty, Sheila convinced her husband, an IBM programmer, to open a bookstore in Clovis, California. Logical and cautious man that he was, Harold was reluctant, but agreed. They called their shop, “The Bookworm.”. Harold was nervous about working at the counter, but Sheila was a natural and, before long, Harold told his wife what she already knew, “We should’ve done this a long time ago.”
When Harold got sick some time later, their short time at The Bookworm needed to come to a premature end and, after losing Harold and relocating here to the central coast, Sheila really wanted to do it again. Bold personality that she was, she paid no mind to detractors. She began buying up used books wherever she could, running around town as a regular attendant of local thrift stores and garage sales, packing her garage with boxes and boxes of books, and in 2005, her second Bookworm opened for business in Santa Maria.
It was only a matter of months before the shop started getting local attention and, in her second year, The Bookworm was voted the best bookstore in northern Santa Barbara County in The Sun’s reader’s poll, a distinction we’re grateful to have been awarded each year since. Customers that have been coming in for a while will remember Sheila’s inspirational sayings on bits of green paper and, of course, her gratitude rocks (“always remember to be grateful!”) that are still carried by many of those with whom she crossed paths. If you see her in the local grocery, feel free to ask her for one- she still carries them with her and she’s likely to have a story to share too.
Sometime during The Bookworm’s first year, my wife, Beckie, and I became regular shoppers. I didn’t work in town but Beckie did, so she came by far more often than I. Many of her lunch hours were spent perusing the shelves here, and during later chats with Sheila, she would sometimes drop hints about perhaps working at the shop. “Are you sure you don’t need someone?” Of course, there wasn’t room on the roster for employees at Sheila’s bookstore, but sometime in 2012, after Beckie related the day’s frustrations, there came a sympathetic pat on her shoulder from a tiny British hand, “you need a bookstore”. Sheila, dropping hints of her own, was looking to retire.
This wasn’t the first time we’d considered something like owning a retail business, but it was by far the best opportunity to come our way, and we were honored that Sheila would consider us. The Bookworm was our favorite shop, and we’d be kicking ourselves if we missed a chance to take it over, or worse, if it closed. And personally, I was ready for a change and “Bookstore Manager” seemed like a promising new title. We met with Sheila a few times, and not long after, our world became ringing phones, official meetings, business plans, legal terminology, pens scribbling signatures on unfamiliar documents, and a low hum of nervousness. Then in August, in an odd moment of perfect timing, just before we were to sign the final “you now own a business” document, I was laid off from my job. Suddenly I was conveniently freed up to spend the days here at the shop, learning how things were done, Sheila introducing me to the many people I’d spend the next years getting to know. Three weeks later, Sheila was finally able to retire, and I was able to make the first bank deposits from our new bookstore.
In the years since, there have been many additions. We extended the shop’s hours, began regularly offering cash for books (you can see our trade and purchase policies here), and launched our social media pages.
Many sections in the store have been revised or expanded; the literature section has doubled in size, our children’s, young adult, and sci-fi/fantasy sections have tripled. There are many more audiobooks, a smattering of movies, and we started carrying sketchbooks, journals, booklights and bookmarks. We also began bringing in new books. There aren’t always enough used copies of certain things available to supply everyone looking for them and Santa Maria is a city of over 100,000 people. We thought there was no question - it deserved a more reliable availability of books than solely used inventory was likely to provide.
We also have implemented an electronic sales and inventory system. The new system enables us to manage special orders and special requests more efficiently. As a replacement for the stamp cards we used to offer, Frequent Buyer Rewards are calculated automatically with a $10 off coupon applied whenever $100 in purchases is met. Our system will also let us know if you’re about to buy a copy of a book you’ve already purchased from us. And as another arm of the shop, our system has enabled us to more efficiently sell some of our inventory in several popular online marketplaces. Our store fronts can be accessed in the Shop menu above. We intend to show all of our inventory here on this site eventually, as well.
If you see something in one of our online shops you are interested in, it’s likely at a lower price here in the shop- feel free to contact us if you want to come by and see it in person.
And that brings us to Gavin’s Books. When we first took over The Bookworm, one of the first things we did was to search for a Facebook page. There was an unclaimed community page, but it took us a while to find it: The Bookworm is a name that belongs to a great many other shops and organizations. When we searched online for The Bookworm, certainly we could find a listing, but also a lot of other Bookworms. Even thebookworm.com belonged to a bookkeeper at the time. And we thought, “What does that name say about us? That we’re just like every other bookstore? And will new people be able to find us? I could barely find us and I own the place…” So we knew that a name change was probably in our future. But we also knew it would take a little money to do so, especially when things like lighted signs are considered, so onto the back burner a new name went, until the spring of 2019.
We thought a new name should be simple, not too gimmicky, not too many words, maybe not even “The [something]” anymore. It should say no more than, “we’ve got books here, we like to keep it warm, come on by.” Gavin’s Books seemed to not get in the way of any of that, and it was already somewhat familiar; our dog Gavin has been in a number of our advertisements and he’s a companion for me in the store a few days a week, so a lot of people know him and have spent time tossing the ball with him. And he looks great standing on a book.
So that’s Gavin’s Books. We’re always trying to grow and improve here, and whatever future there is for books in Santa Maria, we certainly want to be a part of it. This website is the latest seed to be planted and we hope to continue to grow that too.
Thanks so much for supporting us and we hope to see when you’re looking for your next good read!