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A Historic Store Puts On A Young Face

By John Peel | Winter/Spring 19-20

Maria’s Bookshop Goes Literally In-House To Find New Owner

 

With 35-plus years of history, Maria’s Bookshop is a downtown Durango icon. It’s a favorite hangout for many a shopper or browser. Even the inkling that Maria’s could drastically change or disappear altogether created trepidation for anyone with a stake in the city’s future.

 

When co-owners Andrea Avantaggio and Peter Schertz put the store up for sale, people held their breath: Who would buy it, and what would they do with “our” special town treasure?

 

If you love books and spend time in southwest Colorado, you’ve almost certainly been to Maria’s. The store actually opened way back in 1972 as The Bookshop, then became Maria’s Bookshop when Dusty Teal bought the place in 1984 and reimagined what he believed a book store should be, giving it a true Southwest flavor.

 

Avantaggio, by then a six-year-long employee, and Schertz took a huge leap of faith in 1998. They bought the store from Teal, believing they could battle the Barnes & Nobles and Amazons. Their son, Evan, was 6 months old. Daughter Lydia would be born three years later.

 

Fast-forward to the spring of 2018: Their wish to sell became public, and speculation began. Evan was finishing his junior year as a mechanical engineering student at Colorado School of Mines in Golden. For months Avantaggio and Schertz met with prospective buyers and considered offers. Nothing seemed quite right, and, perhaps to the detriment of their own pocketbooks, they always prioritized the shop’s legacy— the community, the customers, the employees—over any financial windfall.

 

“Whatever transpired had to serve all of those people in the best possible way,” Avantaggio said.

 

Meanwhile, Evan, now a senior, was mulling his future. As excited as he’d been to leave Durango and explore the world— during college he visited Japan for world rafting championships and the southern highlands of Tanzania for a school energy design project—Evan discovered as soon as he left that Durango was an ideal place. The community, he realized, is “engaged in its own cultivation”—a condition rare in a large city.

 

His parents had mentioned to Evan the possibility of his assuming control of Maria’s. It was a quick conversation, but the idea slowly took hold. Although he valued the problem-solving mindset that engineering had taught him, he wasn’t sold on an engineering career.

 

In May 2019, the announcement came: Evan would take over at Maria’s.

 

Avantaggio says she felt a “collective sigh of relief” from an anxious community.

 

“True,” says Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District. Maria’s, open every day from 9am to 9pm at 960 Main Avenue, adds value to the heart of downtown.

 

“I think that’s so important that there’s some warm, inviting place that’s always open,” Walsworth said. “Friendly employees, good products-and not just books: It’s a great place for last-minute toys for a kid’s birthday party.”

 

Nationally there is a “clear passing of the torch to a younger generation” of independent book store owners, said Oren Teicher, chief executive officer of the American Booksellers Association and a huge fan of Maria’s.

 

Independent stores have collectively created a road map to success; and in contrast to a decade ago, people see how bookshops fill a viable and important cultural niche. “Evan is part of a cadre of new young owners,” Teicher said. “He’s not alone.”

 

Evan Schertz, now 22, said he certainly does not feel alone. The support he’s received from both the community and Maria’s hardworking, engaging staff has “blown me away.” Avantaggio said the staff is committed to Evan’s success as he uses their expertise and his own problem-solving skills to weave a successful future.

 

Said Evan: “I’m really excited to be part of the next chapter of Maria’s.”

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