Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Bookstore on a Ranch by Carolyn Niethammer

The road to the bookstore at Singing Winds Ranch in the beautiful San Pedro River Valley
This is the story of what some publications have called “the bookstore at the end of the world.” All authors, whether they are famous or just beginners, know that their truest business partner is the staff of the independent bookstore. And there is no better friend for writers of books on western subjects than Winn Bundy, owner of The Singing Winds Bookstore outside the little town of Benson, Arizona.

To get to the bookstore, you turn off I-10 onto Ocotillo Road, a well-graded gravel lane and go about three  miles. looking carefully on your right for the small Singing Winds sign. After the turnoff, the road becomes narrower and dustier. In years past, if the gate was closed you had to open it, drive through, and then close it to keep in the cattle. Now the cattle are fewer and are penned up.
In 1956, Winn and her late husband Bob bought the ranch, around 600 acres, and a few years later began adding mesquite shelves full of books in a room at the end of their home. Winn commuted the 30 miles into Tucson to earn master’s degrees in history and library science. All the while, the bookstore grew. More mesquite shelves, more books. Today those shelves have taken over two rooms at one end of the house and hold around 10,000 volumes. You’ll find everything from the latest best sellers to timeless classics, mysteries to kids' books. Winn knows where each single title is located.

Winn Bundy, owner of Singing Winds Bookstore
The Singing Winds Bookstore, despite its remote location, is hardly undiscovered. Every reporter from a major newspaper who happens to be vacationing in Southern Arizona seems to find his or her way down the road to Singing Winds. The bookstore walls are lined with clippings from The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, Arizona Highways, the Arizona Daily Star and The Arizona Republic. People talk about it on Trip Advisor, Fordor’s and Yelp. A writer from Travel USA called it “the most unique book-buying experience of my life.”

Several times a year Winn holds a book fiesta. The biggest is held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Book lovers fill Winn's enclosed back porch (we call it an Arizona Room) and spill into her living room. Six to eight authors are offered a coveted opportunity to get up and talk about their work before a couple hundred book lovers. Everybody is in a good mood because if they have arrived early enough, they will have filled up on Winn’s chili, cornbread and fat, chocolatey brownies. After each author speaks, Winn isn’t shy about exhorting her guests to actually open their wallets and buy the books, preferably multiple copies. And they do.

These events have been going on for decades. You'd think since she's reached the age of 85, Winn might be thinking of slowing down, cutting back. Oh no!  She has now erected a large metal shed so she can accommodate even more folks at the book fiestas. People pitch in to carry the food from her kitchen out to the buffet line.

Winn has been a loyal fan of my work, carrying all my books on edible wild plants and Native American Indian women. She has given me the chance to tell the story of Annie Dodge Wauneka and two opportunities to read from my OTP novel  The Piano Player, much of which takes place only a few miles from the bookstore in Tombstone, Arizona, but 140 years ago. 

Winn seems indefatigable and has almost mythic status among Southern Arizona authors.  Though her daughters and other friends show up to help her with the events, turn your head and she’s on a ladder getting more napkins or paper plates. Winn claims the privilege of age to speak her mind and if you don’t like what you hear, tough. Mostly her mind is on books, though. Get her talking about the books on her shelves and what you’ll hear every time is: “You’ve got to read this one. This is a great writer. You are really going to love this.”

Singing Winds is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days, including holidays. The phone number is 520-586-2425.


Jackie Taylor Zortman said...

Sounds like a fantastic place, Carolyn. You are lucky to have found it. I'd love to see it and participate in their various festivities. Enjoyable post!

jrlindermuth said...

We need more bookstores like this. Wonderful story.

Susan Lang said...

Thanks, Carolyn, for helping to get the word out about Singing Winds. It is one of the most unique and wonderful places to be and I always feel honored when I get to read there.

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Nicholas Checker said...

The beauty of Oak Tree Press is that it operates like a family run business!

badge # 979 said...

This article about hospitality and warmth of the ranch reminds me of my mother's gatherings. Sign me up.