Changing Hands Bookstore Phoenix

We had the pleasure of visiting Changing Hands Bookstore on West Camelback Road in Phoenix, one of their three locations, and home to their own First Draft Book Bar, which serves wine, beer, and coffee. Changing Hands has another Phoenix store at The Newton, an innovative adaptive reuse project that re-purposed the iconic Beef Eaters restaurant. The original Changing Hands location, founded in 1974, is in Tempe. Changing Hands is one of Arizona’s leading independent bookstores, offering new and used books, gifts, and more than 300 author events every year.

Changing Hands began in 1971 when Tom Broderson, Gayle Shanks, and Bob Sommer—all volunteers at an alternative school in Phoenix—discovered that they shared a common vision of working at a bookstore. They envisioned a socially responsible, environmentally sound business that would also be a community gathering place. A few years later their fantasy became a reality when Tom bought a small, struggling used bookstore for $500, which included books, bookcases, and an ancient cash register. Since that store was losing its lease, the books were packed up until a new location could be found.

Tom and Gayle opened Changing Hands on April Fool’s Day, 1974, with a little borrowed money and a large interest in books and community service. Bob served as a part-time consultant for the first year, after which he came aboard full-time. The group had an eye toward self-sufficiency titles and books not readily available at Walden’s and B. Daltons, the chain bookstores of the day. Over the first few years they learned the business by trial and error, with keen attention to suggestions made by customers who soon became friends. Some also became co-workers at the store, which was originally set up as a worker-owned collective. All employees were owners and decisions were made by consensus.

As the business expanded, the store outgrew its original 500 square feet on 5th Street in downtown Tempe. In August of 1978—with the help of a human book brigade of customers and friends—they moved to a nearby location on Mill Avenue, with 1700 square feet of selling space on two levels. The owners acquired an adjoining shop to the south a few years later and ended up with books on three levels. Later still, they broke through the north wall for another addition, and the store became a roomy 5000 square feet.

The worker-owned collective evolved too. As the business grew, making decisions with a large group of people became complex and unwieldy. As some of the owners moved on to other pursuits, the group was reduced to a core group of owners. They started hiring workers as employees and have maintained their commitment to fairness and inclusion with all the entire staff. The current owners of Changing Hands are Gayle Shanks, Bob Sommer, and Cindy Dach.

Community involvement in the early days of Changing Hands included Community Music Nights and the Friday Poetry Readings which still continue today. Over the decades, author events, workshops and classes have become integral parts of the Changing Hands experience. They now host some 400 events every year—from storytime events for the kids to appearances by local authors and countless New York Times bestselling novelists, celebrities, rock stars, politicians, sports figures, and more. Children’s books and events are a vital component as well.  The owners know children are the future of Changing Hands and the community. Some of our kids-oriented offerings include costume events, Club Read, weekly storytimes, and visits by favorite authors.

In the mid ’90s, when downtown Tempe development began to head away from the needs of the local community, with rent and parking fees skyrocketing as national chains moved in, Changing Hands was forced to make the painful decision to relocate—a huge undertaking, unlike anything the owners had encountered before. But once again—this time in the spring of 1998—they had the support and help of their large community the readers they’d served for years. After moving to their current Tempe location on McClintock and Guadalupe, they found many new friends and neighbors who welcomed them warmly. After taking on 18 new employees at once, it truly felt as if the store had been reborn. Two years later, in 2000, the Mill Avenue location closed forever when its lease expired.

Up until 1993 there were two excellent independent bookstores serving central Phoenix: Dushoff’s at 32nd Street and Camelback, and Houle’s on Central and Camelback. The year before, Bookstar, a large discount bookseller, had opened at Town and Country Shopping Center.

In 1993, Borders opened its huge 30,000 square feet store at Biltmore Fashion Park, and Dushoff’s announced that it would soon close its doors. Houle’s succumbed the following year, both stores driven out by the loss of customers to the corporate giants. Those two chain stores prospered for most of the next 17 years, until 2011 when they both caved to competition from the web. Central Phoenix then found itself with no full-service chain or independent bookstores. That’s the vacuum Changing Hands sought to fill three years later when it opened a second location on 3rd Avenue and Camelback in the summer of 2014, directly across from a light rail station.

When deciding to open the second location, Changing Hands made the decision not to duplicate the first store. They were going into the historic Beefeater’s restaurant location and wanted to honor the significance of that historic community space, along with its mid-century architecture. They wanted each store to reflect its community both in design and content.

Changing Hands Phoenix is home to First Draft Book Bar, which features coffee, wine, beer, and snacks. The Phoenix location has a dedicated event space, along with two meetings rooms as requested through community outreach and feedback. First Draft Book Bar has an award-winning logo and has allowed the bookstore to grow its events programming by adding a wine and beer component to the experience. As a result, Changing Hands hosts more authorless events, including First Draft Book Club, Trivia Night events, and more.

The event space inside the Phoenix—known as The Commons—has quickly become a favorite location for weddings, baby showers, holiday functions, and more.

Staff picks included three of my favorite Irish writers, John Banville, Claire Keegan, and Colm Tóibín.






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