Contrary to stereotype—and the fact that the state's population is 91% white—Idaho is diverse in its own way, booksellers insist. "We're not all right-wing and we don't just eat potatoes," said Laura Delaney, owner of the Rediscovered Bookshop in Boise.

Kurtis Lowe, a commission rep who travels to the Gem State twice a year for Book Traveler's West, said Idaho is separated into three distinct regions: the northern panhandle between Missoula, Mont., and Spokane, Wash; the southeast near the Utah border; and the southwest around Boise (near Oregon). Another region all its own is Sun Valley, located between southeast and southwestern Idaho, with its vacation homes of the rich and famous (and setting for Sumner Redstone's annual five-day retreat of media moguls, politicos, celebrities and investment types). However different these regions may be, over the past 10 years population growth has affected them all.

Scott Gipson, publisher of the 82-year-old, family-owned Caxton Press in Caldwell, concurred with Lowe's assessment of his home state. "It's an odd state because it's large geographically, but the population is centered in a few areas," said Gipson.

The local joke is that Idaho has three capitals: Spokane in the north, Boise in the southwest and Salt Lake City in the southeast. The north skews more liberal and the southeast more conservative, largely due to the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah. Boise has a booming technology industry.

Christian titles are important at all of the state's Hastings stores, said Randy Ham, a regional buyer at the retailer, which operates nine stores in Idaho. Still, he said, Hastings relies on local staff to find the title mix suitable for their particular part of the state. In Coeur d'Alene (north), he said, book buyers' tastes were more "eclectic." He described Boise as a growing college town. "I kind of equate it to the Austin of the North."

In the Treasure Valley area around Boise, where Gipson lives and runs Caxton, he has seen a population explosion. "In the last 10 years the population in the valley has gone from 250,000 to close to 600,000—that might not sound like a lot, but it's more than a 100% increase in a small amount of time."

"Yes, the population growth has been tremendous," said Delaney, a former school teacher who opened the Rediscovered Bookshop in September. "There are a lot of young families with kids," she added, so the store was designed with wide aisles for easy stroller access. Like most of the independent booksellers in Idaho, the Rediscovered Bookshop carries new and used books.

In Blaine County, where Sun Valley is located, the local population jumped from 13,500 to 21,100 between 1990 and 2004, but that is only part of the story. During the summer and winter high seasons, more than a million people come through the area to make use of its mountains, lakes and resorts. Gary Hunt, co-owner of Iconoclast Books, said he originally came out to Sun Valley as a "ski bum from Seattle," where he started his bookstore before relocating to Idaho in 1994. Iconoclast now has three locations in Blaine County, which he said is not populated enough for big-box stores.

With so much of the population living in his part of the state only part-time, Hunt said the peaks and valleys of the business can create major cash-flow problems. So Iconoclast started the annual Hemingway Festival, which takes place in September—off peak. (Hemingway lived and wrote in Sun Valley, and Sun Valley is where he returned and took his life.). Another literary event, the Sun Valley Writers Conference, draws about 900 attendees each year who come to meet such authors as William Styron, Michael Ondaatje, Justice Stephen Breyer and Cokie Roberts.

Bookselling Health Index
Household Income: $39,492

Population: 1,393,000

Independent Bookstores: 24

Chain Bookstores: 9

Total Bookstores: 33

Big-box Stores: 29

Total Stores: 62

Stores per Capita: 1 per 22,467

Per Capita Rank: 22