In Santa Cruz, Calif.’s touristy Pleasure Point, a couple of blocks from a popular surfing beach, Denise Silva and Gary Butler established Two Birds Books in December 2020. For now, they’re the sole proprietors and staffers of the 900-square-foot space, selling a 50/50 combination of new and used titles.

Like so many bibliophiles, Butler calls opening a bookstore “a mini dream of mine, always percolating” during his careers as an administrator for residential/outpatient mental health services and as an animal shelter manager. He saw bookselling as a retirement project (he and Silva have been married since 2014) and lamented the closures of Santa Cruz indies including Capitola Book Café and used-book emporium Logos, shuttered due to online competitors, “astronomical cost of living,” commercial rent, and owner retirement.

Silva, a freelance editor and Brit lit PhD who teaches writing at UC–Santa Cruz, feared they had no time to waste. When the Pleasure Point storefront came available in October 2020—with affordable rent, due to pandemic pressure on bricks-and-mortar businesses—they signed the lease and opened less than two months later. “We did it now because, if it’s the retirement plan, who knows if bookstores will be around?” Silva says.

“It was such a whirlwind,” Butler adds. “There were so many details: How does the credit card system work? What inventory system should we use? Where do books come from? I bought a bunch of books on and read them all.” A local graphic design outfit, Blue Heron Design Group, supplied the double-crow logo. Ali Elfaki, owner of Old Capitol Books in Monterey, Calif., and a good carpenter to boot, installed oak shelves left over from Old Capitol’s recent move.

Butler and Silva get most of their new inventory through Ingram and accept used book trade-ins for store credit. “Because we’re such a small space, we set a high bar for the quality of used books,” Butler says. They shelve secondhand titles among the new.

“Since cost is such an issue here in Santa Cruz,” Silva explains, “the price point of a used book can be helpful for folks who are on a tighter budget.”

Two Birds takes seriously its role as a community hub, Silva says. “The pandemic has been so prohibitive, and it’s thrilling how we went from being lonely and isolated to having a store where two neighbors can bump into each other.” The shop’s nature-centered Bonfire Book Club meets outdoors during warmer months, and its mystery/thriller-focused Pleasure Point Murder Club often gathers in a local brewery. Two Birds also supports the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center, summer reading events at local libraries, and senior dog rescue.

In their first year as booksellers, Butler and Silva adjusted their assumptions about what would and wouldn’t work. They expanded their philosophy and surfing sections, cut back on literary criticism and sports, and ordered more social justice–oriented children’s literature. Nature books like Suzanne Simard’s Finding the Mother Tree and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass are reliable sellers, as are fantasy and SF titles. Readers seek out work by big-name Santa Cruz locals Karen Joy Fowler, Jonathan Franzen, and Elizabeth McKenzie, as well as by regional author Emerson Murray, whose self-published Murder Capital of the World recalls what Butler calls the “gnarly history” of serial killings in early-1970s Santa Cruz.

“I’m appreciative that people still find ways to value bookstores,” Butler says. Silva adds, “We’re straightforward, not flashy people who want to be agile and serve the community. We imagine that our smaller size will end up being to our benefit.”

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