Brodsky Bookshop to move online

Rick Smith, owner of Brodsky Bookshop in Taos, New Mexico, has run the business for the last 28 years

Rick Smith still uses a flip phone. But along with a great deal of other things in his life, that's about to change.

Smith, 71, together with his wife Morris Witten, owns the Brodsky Bookshop, located at 226 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in Taos.

After 28 years of running the browsers' paradise, cramped with used and new books, he plans to close it and transition to all-online bookselling. That is, unless someone buys the shop and keeps it going.

"That was always my first wish," said Smith. "I like the idea of turning it over to somebody. Kind of like my wife and I when we took it over."

Despite the lockdowns and economic hardship brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith said business had not suffered too terribly. His one employee, who worked two days a week, stepped down and now Smith runs the shop by himself.

"It's a bit of a grind," he said. "It just seemed like the right time to transition."

Leon Brodsky

Brodsky Bookshop was founded in 1977 by Leon Brodsky, a large man who wore thick glasses and was said to possess a rapier wit. Everyone called him Lee.

He and his wife and their two teenage daughters were living in Brooklyn, New York, when a trip they had planned to the Swiss Alps got cancelled. A friend recommended they visit Taos instead.

Brodsky fell in love with Northern New Mexico, and soon after moved to Taos. He had been working as a chemical engineer, but always wanted to own a bookstore.

The original shop was established next door to the Taos Inn. After 10 years, Brodsky moved it to 218 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. He ran the shop for another five years from that address, until he died in his sleep due to ongoing health issues. He was 62.

The local author John Nichols later wrote "The Day Lee Brodsky Died," a story about a man who hikes and hunts and reflects on the beauty and grace of the natural world.

Under new ownership

Smith, his wife and their two sons moved to Taos from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1992. He and Witten were in their '40s and were looking to make a change. Smith worked in public television at the time. His wife was an historian.

They purchased the bookshop that year from the Brodsky family, and Smith took the lead role in running it while Witten went to work with the Kit Carson Home and Museum.

"Bookshops, they attract a real interesting group of people -- they're thoughtful, they're curious, they have strong opinions," said Smith. "From the beginning, we said, 'customer service--that's what it's all about.'"

Brodsky Bookshop became known as a place with rare and bespoke offerings -- a shop that hunted down titles to meet the needs of its clientele. In addition to new and used books, Smith sold record albums, movies and assorted ephemera.

"The common comment is like, 'man, where do you get this stuff?' Or, 'I just can't believe how many good books you have,'" said Smith.

Adapting to Amazon

Starting in 1982, the Taos Poetry Circus brought poets from all over the world to engage in spoken-word performances -- the great 20th-century American poet Allen Ginsberg among them. The Brodsky Bookshop served as the main bookseller for the yearly event.

In the early nineties, Taos had nearly a dozen bookstores, including Moby Dickens Bookshop in the John Dunn Shops on historic Bent Street. The town's literary scene was so vibrant, The Denver Post published an article in its travel section about it.

That all changed with the arrival of the internet -- or more specifically, Amazon-- in July, 1995.

"Forty percent of our businesses disappeared the first two years," said Smith. "As employees left, we didn't replace them. We just became, you know, owner-run."

Smith turned to special orders, consignment sales and used books to keep the business alive. He had always partnered with the local schools for their book purchases, but that too had dropped off significantly.

Smith also collaborated with SOMOS, the Society of the Muse of the Southwest, a local literary initiative that supports written and spoken-word artists through classes, workshops and events.

"When they have events, they ask me to come in and sell books," said Smith. "It gives me an opportunity to meet the writers, and in some cases, I leave with signed copies that I can sell."

All online

All great bookstores have a resident cat and Brodsky Bookshop is no exception.

"Willie's 9," said Smith. "He's named after Willie Stark, the main character in a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel called "All the King's Men". That's my wife's favorite novel. And one of my favorite novels."

When the bookshop closes at the end of January, Willie will move in with Smith and Witten.

Smith said he is going to miss the human contact when he transitions to an all-online business. But -- like trading his flip phone for a smartphone -- it's time to make a change.

"I'm going to be trying something new, but still doing books," said Smith. "I'm still talking to SOMOS about continuing to do their events. And maybe I'll even become their online bookseller. Who knows? I mean, the possibilities, it's exciting."

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