After the sudden death of Stan Collins this summer from a brain tumor, his widow, Mary Collins plans to close the store they cofounded 23 years ago. Once Upon a Time Toys & Books in Biltmore Village in Asheville, N.C., will cease operation at the end of this month.
Collins kept the bookstore going through Christmas to honor her husband. “His passion was that bookstore,” Collins said, adding that he worked there seven days a week. She draws a distinction between his second career as a bookseller, and his earlier work, which he enjoyed, as director of communications for Owings-Corning Fiberglass in Toledo, Ohio. He left Owens-Corning to start his own advertising agency in Asheville before joining her at the bookstore.
Collins found it difficult to run the store last fall and maintain her commitment to continue her other job doing event planning for area schools. Her store expenses continued to mount since she and her husband had sold the store’s 4,000 sq. ft. building last year. In addition to paying rent, she also had to hire staff to cover the hours she was at work.
Collins has used the past six months to say goodbye to customers, some of whom began coming to the store as babies and are now raising families of their own. Others stopped in once a year to visit the bookstore and Stan when they came to the Biltmore Estate, the largest home in the U.S., built by George Vanderbilt.
“[Once Upon a Time] has been a great part of our life,” Collins said. She held out the possibility that she might return to children’s bookselling. “I love retail, and I believe in Stan’s philosophy that it’s important to interact with people. And I like having my own business,” she added.
In the meantime, Collins is looking to publish six children’s stories that her husband wrote, which she found when she was cleaning out his desk.