This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Chinook Bookshop, the oldest bookstore in Colorado Springs. Established on North Tejon Street and strategically located downtown, the store has been expanded by owner-managers Dick and Judy Noyes from its original 2400 square feet to its current 8500 square feet; during the last four decades its inventory grew from under 500 titles to more than 50,000. The general-interest store grosses close to $3 million a year.

Even with Waldenbooks and B. Dalton bookstores, two large B&Ns, one Borders Books & Music -- and a second Borders about to open -- on the outskirts of town, the Chinook Bookshop is still growing. The secret? An old-timers' recipe for keeping well above water in today's cutthroat industry: "Being professional booksellers," asserted Dick Noyes. "Being the best in the business. We have a staff of 30, and our average employee stays for at least 13 years. Many have been here for over three decades. They're not clerks. They're the most knowledgeable people in bookselling you can find."

The Chinook Bookshop pays its staff generously by bookstore standards, adding perks and incentives to attract career employees. "When we started, our goal was to pay our people the same as high school teachers," Judy Noyes told PW. "Of course, that's not a high standard anymore. We pay half of their health insurance premiums, give frequent raises and start them with a two-week paid vacation package."

Many of the staff now receive four-week paid vacations, but, according to Dick Noyes, the reason for the long staff tenure is the spirit of friendship and family shared among management and employees. The store once covered 100% of health insurance premiums; it began to split the costs with employees when the chains started to move into Colorado Springs eight years ago. The Noyeses have found that their staff remains faithful.

"We're determined to win this struggle -- to show everyone that our kind of professional bookselling is best," Dick Noyes insisted. "What's happening to the independents may not be fair, but it's invigorating and challenging." In 1991 the couple bought the site they had been occupying on North Tejon, which consisted of four connected 160-feet-deep by 15-feet-wide storefronts. Chinook currently occupies three of the original fronts, which have been opened into one single floor. Western Americana artwork covers the walls, with buffalo skulls, arrow heads and a wide display of Native American artifacts. The Noyeses still rent out the fourth storefront, but are considering expanding into it as well.

"It's a comfortable, rambling space," noted Judy Noyes. "People love to just meet and hang out here -- all sorts of people of all ages. When the chains started swamping the area, we did a survey asking our customers what they wanted. They said don't change -- and add more chairs."

Dick Noyes attributed much of the store's success to its strong commitment to special orders. "We've made special orders from over 40,000 publishers since 1959," reported Noyes, who keeps copious records. "We attempt to give our customers complete access to all the books in print." The Chinook staff takes orders by fax as well as through an 800 number. Though the store redesigned its Web site ( eight months ago, Dick Noyes is convinced that personal contact with the customer, recommending certain titles and responding to customer concerns are the most vital form of bookselling.

The store also features various discounts for teachers and the popular Friends of Chinook card. After 10 purchases at the store, regardless of the price paid for each purchase, the customer receives $20 off his or her next book. "Five years ago, after watching other stores go out of business in their good efforts to match the chains' massive price slashing," recalled Judy Noyes, "we decided this was our best way to compete. Along with our monthly newsletter," she added.

The Noyeses are now entering the secondhand market as part of their effort to thrive into the next millennium. The store presently has 500 used titles and is expanding its stock daily. Once the largest store south of Denver, the Chinook experienced its first loss in 1998, when sales slid by 4% over the holiday season. The owners attributed the downturn to the popularity of online holiday purchases with such companies as -- though sales were back to normal for the first quarter of 1999.

As part of its 40th-anniversary celebration, the store sponsored book-gift drawings, literature and history contests with questions formulated by the staff, and free refreshments. The entire staff celebrated by having dinner in the store at the end of the day's festivities.