The Homer Bookstore is about as far away from New York City as one can get within the United States: 4,585 miles, to be exact. Homer is a small city on Kachemak Bay, on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, and tourists come for halibut fishing and whale watching. But it’s also the state’s closest equivalent to a hipster haven—a Brooklyn or Austin of the far north—with 5,700 people in town and another 11,000 in the surrounding area.
The Homer Bookstore is the oldest continually operating bookstore in the state, and one of the few places to buy new books within several hundred miles. The store was founded in 1974 by a former Peace Corp volunteer and for many years it was simply known as “the bookstore.” In 1978, Joy Post bought the store with her son, Lee Post, who, at age 62, remains a co-owner.
The Homer Bookstore moved numerous times over its first two decades, but it found a permanent home in 2001, when the owners were able to buy their building. “Our down payment was money we made not from selling books but from selling Beanie Babies,” Post said. “It was one of those fluke things: my mother had always stocked some of the Alaskan Beanie Baby animals—bear, moose, eagles—before there was a huge craze. Once they became popular, we were one of the few places you could buy them in the state.”
Post works in the store alongside his fellow co-owners Jenny Stroyeck and his sister, Susan Post, both of whom previously served as store managers for the long-defunct Book Cache chain. “At its peak, Book Cache had 15 stores around Alaska and two in Hawaii, but they are all gone now,” Post said. He initially brought in the partners to enable him to step away from the business for several years to pursue a passion project of building a life-size skeleton of a sperm whale for the local Pratt Museum.
Today, the Homer Bookstore is 2,000 square feet, requiring a mix of part-timers and the owners to operate. One of the current part-timers is the son of Bradley Graham, ABA president and co-owner of Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. “I think the boy has caught the Alaska bug and won’t be going home anytime soon,” Post noted.
Post said that over the previous several decades, the store has provided the owners a comfortable life, with plenty of time off in the quieter, non-tourist-season months. But, he added, 2020, was a challenge. “Suddenly, with schools closed, and no tourists and people stuck at home, everyone was reading a lot more and buying more books. We had to switch from in-store sales to taking orders online, on social media, and on the phone.”
After taking orders, the staff put the books out on the porch for customer pickup, or drop-shipped them through Ingram. The Homer Bookstore closed its coffee shop and retrofitted the area to sell puzzles, which were the bestselling product in the store last year.
With other booksellers’ shipping times to Alaska longer than is typical for online orders, the Homer Bookstore has something of a captive audience. “Despite Amazon being cheaper, if we have a book in stock, people will buy from us,” Post said. The store stocks approximately 12,000 titles and specializes in general trade titles, as well as books relevant to Alaska. Shipments come in every day, but if a book sells out, restocking can take up to two weeks.
“The vibe here is very woodsy and rustic,” said Post, who noted that he personally built all the fixtures at his home woodshop. “If we need something here, we make it. I now have more than 40 years of experience putting together bookshelves.”
The store’s mascot is a sea otter floating on its back reading a book—a little sketch Post also drew himself and “stuck on a business card.”
Over the years, the Homer Bookstore has served as a resource for the many writers who have lived in town—of whom perhaps the most famous is NPR humorist Tom Bodett, who spent 23 years in Homer before moving to Vermont in 2019. “This town has more writers per capita than almost anywhere in the U.S.,” Post noted. “There are over 100 authors here. It’s a hot spot.”
That said, visitors rather than locals tend to show the greatest appreciation for the store, according to Post. “The comment we hear all the time when they walk in the door is, ‘Oh my God—a real bookstore!’ They are all amazed to find one just like the ones they used to remember in this tiny town in Alaska.”