Why books matter in Durango

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Starting off as a book hoarder – he also has a storage unit that’s full and creaking – Denny Rahilly, owner of Second Story Used Books, eventually decided to share his collection with the world. He runs the place alone (coming up on three years), accompanied by a sweet little dog, Bean. The location is a bit tricky to find: 862 Main Ave on the second story, above Chimayo. But the shop’s selection is well worth the effort of a staircase. DGO spoke with Rahilly about why real books trump e-readers and Durango’s surprisingly bookish populace.

Durango is a small town perhaps better known for outdoor activities than literary culture. Why did you open a bookstore here?

I have a problem with collecting and buying and hoarding books – it really is a problem – and eventually, it got to the point where I had to do something with them. Durango is a strange town; it’s known for the outdoor and Wild West stuff, and the tourism board has done a great job of branding it that way. But the reality of it is, there are five bookstores here! (Maria’s Bookshop, White Rabbit Books and Curiosities, The Book Hutch, the Southwest Book Trader). We all do our own thing. Plus there’s Magpie’s, which is a newsstand; a throwback, as you don’t see those much anymore. The idea of the printed word … it’s not all on screens here. Durango is able to support five bookstores and a newsstand, and they’ve got a relatively brand new library. Ignacio has a nice library, too, and so do Cortez, Mancos, Dolores. And Bayfield just won an award for the best small library in America. Friends of the Library has another little bookstore right in the lobby of our library, which is ongoing. On the second floor of the Durango Arts Center there’s a free lending library. So there’s a lot of printed word circulating in this community.

How did you amass your giant book collection?

You name it. Thrift stores, garage sales, library sales. Now it’s to the point where people just drop books off. I find homes for them. My brother (Scott) has a nonprofit, the Durango Book Rescue.

So people in Durango are big readers?

They seem to be. Maria’s does gangbusters, really well. The Book Trader has been around for … I’m guessing 30 years at that location, he has two or three copies of everything. Part of it is Fort Lewis College, which helps, with professors and people like that in the college community. It’s also a retirement and second-home community for a lot of people, and you need money in order to do that, so maybe you come with your library and then you downsize. I don’t know! It’s a strange phenomenon.

What kind of books do you carry?

My motto is, “If you can find it at the airport, I probably don’t have it.”

What’s good about a real book versus e-readers and Kindles?

It’s hard to fact-check a website without an actual book. The tangible aspects, the artwork and, of course, you can read it in the bathtub and not worry. You can underline. I read off a screen all the time, but not books. My brain doesn’t work that way. I like the historical side of it; I like the look, smell, the story of the story when you find a used book that’s been written in or inscribed to someone. Adds a little something to the actual story that you’re going to read. There’s a depth to it. You can’t share e-readers either, can you? You can’t say “Here, you’ve gotta read this.” I guess you can give them your Kindle. But then you don’t have your library, for just one book.

Lending someone a book is kind of an intimate, personal gesture that you can’t get with e-readers. Though sometimes when you lend people books, you never get them back.

Yeah, but that’s a cheap way to find out who’s your friend.

Do you get a lot of foot traffic, or is your upstairs location a hindrance?

I know there are other businesses up and down Main located on the second floor that are kind of off people’s radar. Like my friend has Hummingbird Herbals, been around for 20 years. And there’s plenty more! That’s the only way you can do it in this town; the rent at the bottom of the stairs is easily four times higher. I couldn’t do this on the first floor of Main. Maybe we should all band together and try to promote ourselves, do a second floor festival or something.

Anya Jaremko-GreenwoldDGO Staff Writer

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