It's the first Monday in April. Snow swirls across Main Street. Wind passes through like a wet, frozen ghost. Everything feels smudged: grey sky, skeletal trees with buds still furled and waiting, opaque clumps of ice still clinging to the sidewalk edge. Winter has clawed beyond March, but in downtown Harbor Springs, a sign of seasons shifting, of change and growth is bringing the community its own version of spring, in the form of good books.
Between the Covers, the town's longtime independent bookstore, has flipped its sign from "shut" to "open" after a month hiatus while new owner, Katie Capaldi, geared up for what she says is the culmination of experiences, education, and opportunities in the world of writers and readers.
"I started selling books in the eighth grade at McLean and Eakin in Petoskey," she recalled with a smile. Capaldi's mom, Susan, also worked at McLean and Eakin for many years.
Capaldi sat down for an interview last week, before the store reopened. Paint cans sat on the counter, piles of books were stacked all over the shelves and floor. The Petoskey graduate smiled as she looked around, clearly comfortable amid the pages.
"I continued working at McLean and Eakin throughout high school, and when I came back from school (Capaldi graduated from Kenyon College) in the summers," she said, noting that she was originally brought on to work in the children's section, and though her responsibilities grew and broadened over time, her love for children's and young adult literature has never wavered.
Capaldi moved to Chicago after graduation, and took a job at the Book Cellar, a bookstore and wine bar frequented mostly by young city dwellers.
"It was totally different, an urban environment that wasn't at all a seasonal bookstore. I learned a lot, getting used to the buying seasons, as well as the events held in our space, like food tasting, musical concerts, film showings."
One thing that didn't change, however, was the publishing industry sales representatives, many of whom Capaldi met during her time at McLean and Eakin. Being at the Book Cellar full-time allowed her to grow relationships with those representatives.
"I then ended up coming back to McLean and Eakin full-time for a few years, before moving out to Missoula, Montana. Missoula is very different from most Montana cities. It has a strong English program (at the University of Montana) and there are a ton of writers."
And where there are writers, there are bookstores. Capaldi worked for Shakespeare and
Company, a shop that offered yet another completely unique bookselling experience.
"There was no inventory system. Everything was handwritten and you just had to know the store inside and out, and the owner only stocked 'good' books. There was more poetry in that store than anything."
Eventually, Capaldi and her partner, Brian Boeckl, began talking of moving back to Michigan, where both their families are located.
"Brian started putting some feelers out there, and we both ended up finding work outside of Ann Arbor," she said. "I was working in dance and cultural arts, but even then, I still did kids book programming and a childrens book newsletter, more to satisfy something in myself than anything."
Capaldi said despite her lifetime of working with books, she never imagined owning a store herself until she caught wind that former Between the Covers owner, Jeanne Regentin, was beginning to look toward retirement.
"I'd never actually met Jeanne, and I wondered if the community was really ready for a different type of store (bigger, with more events) but the more I talked to Jeanne about all the exciting things happening with the Harbor Springs DDA and the more feedback I got about the shifts happening here in general, it started to seem like this might be the right fit."
Capaldi stressed Regentin wasn't looking to "just get rid of the store," that she was waiting for the right person, and the more they talked the more their visions for the future seemed to be a perfect match.
Change isn't always an easy word in Harbor Springs, but in the case of Between the Covers, there is little doubt-- the community is ready and waiting to support Capaldi's ideas. In addition to the "staples" the bookstore has always carried, fun mysteries, beach reads, etc., Capaldi's plans can be summed up in one phrase: expand the inventory.
"I plan to remain in this location through the summer, but I'm actively looking for a new spot downtown, where I can quadruple the inventory and have space for a lot of events. I need room to fit more variety, and I'm excited to bring books to the shelves that someone might not come down and ask for because it isn't in the news or getting reviewed everywhere, but that I can recommend."
Building community and building free programming also tops Capaldi's to-do list. She said she plans to make Between the Covers the place people go to share and have conversations about reading, writing, ideas.
"I want to have forums and teen book clubs and kids events that incorporate books and movement. I have a ton of ideas," she said, breaking into a wide grin.
Capaldi said she will continue the Harbor Springs Library wish-list program, and has started a similar donation program for North Country Kids Preschool. While existing programs will be tweaked for organization purposes, Capaldi stressed she's passionate about helping get books on shelves. She added getting involved in the local school district, and supporting teachers and students, is important to her.
Capaldi's first big push will be celebrating National Children's Book Week, May 13-19. Between the Covers will be teaming up with several community members, organizations, and businesses to share in the joy of reading.
"Anything we, as a community, can do to increase literacy in general," she said. "Teachers are strapped financially and time-wise, so I want to build relationships that can help them, whether its coming in to talk to students, providing video blogs, or lists of literature to support their lesson plans."
All of this will take time, Capaldi said, but she's here for the long haul.
"I want people to get used to coming downtown with $10 and being able to go into a store and get something really great. Long-term, I want to do monthly gallery shows, and have musicians in, I want a space that is open, a place to learn."
As the book industry across the country changes, one thing remains clear: independent bookstores with strong owners are rising above all the upheaval, because they possess the special ability to not only talk about books, but to connect with people, to recommend and support readers of all ages and abilities.
And it's clear Capaldi is just such a bookseller.
"This is a business of ideas and relationships, and I'm looking forward to cultivating
Between the Covers is now open from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday. Summer hours will be extended even more, Capaldi noted. She said the Between the Covers website will be getting an overhaul in the near future, and in the meantime, the store's electronic newsletter will be up-to-date. If you'd like to get on the Between the Covers mailing list, please send an email to email@example.com, with the subject line "newsletter."
To shop via phone, call Between the Covers, (231) 526-6658, or stop in the store, located at 152 East Main Street in downtown Harbor Springs.