Peggy Frank loves books and loves readers.
“Readers are wonderful people,” Frank, 79, said in a recent interview at her store, Book Mountain, on Cerrillos Road south of Osage Avenue. “They’re intelligent, articulate. And we all have something in common — we love to read.”
For the past 39 years, Frank has dealt with readers nearly every day at her business, Santa Fe’s only paperback book exchange, which also offers some new titles by select authors. She and longtime partner Tom Juster have built up a steady stream of regulars who love to come in the homey little shop to browse, buy or trade books and chat about authors and their works, or anything else on their minds. “Santa Fe is a city of bibliophiles,” she said.
But it may soon be coming to an end.
Book Mountain’s landlord recently informed her that they have to vacate their space — at least temporarily — while he renovates the 1950s-era strip mall in the 2100 block of Cerrillos Road.
She said landlord Carlos Garcia, who has owned the property for about a dozen years, said Book Mountain would be able to move back in after the renovation. But she said that might not be financially possible unless she and Juster find an affordable temporary space during the three or four months the project is expected to take.
Frank doesn’t blame Garcia, who she described as a “wonderful landlord.” But she is not sure whether the store will be able to continue into its fifth decade.
Book Mountain has its roots in a terrible traffic accident in 1978 in which Frank was severely injured.
“I was in a head-on collision,” she said. “I was hit by a drunk 15-year-old kid who crossed the median and hit me head on. Every bone in both legs were broken.” She also broke her left arm and injured an eye. “In a split second I was rendered unable to ever run again.”
Frank had worked as a medical technologist and had a teaching certificate, but her injuries left her unable to do such work.
“I was reading a lot after the accident,” she recalled. “And I decided this town needed a bookstore like this.”
In 1980, when a space opened up in the strip mall, just two blocks from her house, she signed a lease for the space, which was a few doors down from the shop’s present location.
“It was $350 a month,” she said with a laugh.
Frank and Juster had been fans of Don’s Paperback Books, a popular Albuquerque store that’s been around since 1970. Frank said they spoke to the owner, Don Pierce, who “taught us how to run a used book store.”
On Tuesday morning, shortly after Book Mountain opened for business, customers started trickling in. Some carried stacks of books to trade. One man had a large box of old paperbacks. The store keeps files — all paper, no computers — on how much credit each customer has accumulated, and virtually everyone who came in had credit. When a customer buys from Book Mountain, the book’s price is deducted from the credit, plus a fee of 25 cents per book. (That’s gone up from a dime in the old days.)
Among the store’s first several customers Tuesday, nobody paid more than $1.25. As she’s done for 39 years, Frank puts the cash in a small box. She laughed when one man asked if he could use a credit card. Book Mountain never has accepted plastic. “The banks already have enough money,” she said.
Along with thousands of old paperbacks, the store holds many memories for Frank and Juster.
She recalled a man who years ago tried to trade in a bunch of old books that she rejected because they were in bad shape. The man then went to the store’s shelves and pulled out a book that he said was in even worse condition than the ones Frank rejected. “I told him I refused to argue for free,” she said. The man left the store, taking his box of rejects with him.
Though Frank’s answer probably wasn’t a textbook example of customer service, this customer did return. “He still comes in all the time,” she said. “He’s become a very loyal customer.”
She recalled once when the late Santa Fe character known as Babe Rainbow — a diminutive biker, tattoo artist and light man for bands at local nightclubs — came in to check out the store’s western novels. Also browsing were two cowboys, one of whom asked for books by Louis L’Amour.
“That little fella took the last one,” the other cowboy said.
“That hippie reads Louis L’Amour?” the first cowboy said in disbelief.
Then there was the woman who came in looking for a particular edition of the Bible. When Frank told her she didn’t have it, the woman said, “It’s all the undertaker’s fault.” A copy of the one she was looking for had been buried with her father. “I said at least she knows where it is,” Frank said.
While it’s obvious she loves the business to which she’s devoted nearly four decades, Frank is philosophical about the possibility it could end soon.
“We’re foolish to believe the way things are will last forever,” she said. “Everything is unknown.”