Taking a bow: Independent bookseller Dorothy Massey

Dorothy Massey, owner of Collected Works Bookstore, photo Luke E. Montavon/The New Mexican

If you wander past the tall, arched windows of Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse (202 Galisteo St.,505-988-4226, collectedworksbookstore.com) one evening, you may see a crowd seated and staring straight ahead. From your vantage point outside, who or what they are watching is out of view. But on most nights of the week, it’s safe to assume that a writer is reading aloud from the small stage in the corner of the store.

“I don’t think those passersby usually come in, but it helps the aura of downtown Santa Fe for people to know there are things going on,” says Dorothy Massey, the owner of Collected Works, who quickly points out that sometimes bookstore events stretch beyond poetry and prose. “Last night, we had musicians and a narrator,” she says. “It was Halloween. We saw a row of goblins looking in the window.”

Massey, 81, is resistant to the idea that her success as a bookseller makes her worthy of attention in the local paper. “The store is a great deal more than one person,” she says with a flash of humor. She is, however, quite serious. “I’m delighted to talk about the store without getting into my own history.”

Sitting in her office with her 12-year-old Cairn terrier, Booker T. Dog, at her feet, she is willing to reveal that she grew up on the East Coast. Career-wise, she worked in New York for many years, in some capacity connected to opera. She won’t say exactly what. On the personal front, she was married and raised two children, became a widow, and moved to Santa Fe in 1998, when she bought Collected Works.

Massey is the store’s third owner. Collected Works first opened in 1976, a few blocks away, on San Francisco Street. Massey moved the operation to the corner of Water and Galisteo streets in 2008 so that she could put in a coffee bar and accommodate larger crowds, “just in time to celebrate the recession.” The store made it through the tough times thanks to the goodwill of “the local people in Santa Fe and the tourists, who did not stop coming.”

In 2011, big-box bookstore Borders shut down operations across the country, including its two locations in Santa Fe. Somehow, Collected Works and other local independent bookstores outlasted the behemoth to thrive in a new era. Now, the battle for survival is against internet retailers, specifically Amazon, but Massey says that Collected Works offers certain advantages. First of all, you can browse far more easily than you can online, and you can ask staff members for recommendations. What’s more, “you can read a book for a good few hours in front of our fireplace before we ask you to buy it.”

Collected Works carries extensive selections of books by local authors, children’s classics, and poetry, as well as new releases, literary fiction, travel books, and more. The store will order anything you can’t find on its shelves, and it often manages large wholesale orders for nonprofit organizations because it has access to publisher and distributor discounts. What keeps the business humming is the 10-member staff. “They’re not in it for the pay,” Massey says with a rueful shrug. “They’re in it because they enjoy what they’re doing and they enjoy their colleagues. We are one family — we squabble. We don’t always get along, but we try to work it out.”

Weekday mornings, you’ll find receiving manager Paul Friesen checking in book shipments by the back door as music plays in the café area, which is run by Iconik Coffee. Friesen, who has worked at the store for three years, calls the job heaven for a reader such as himself. When asked whether he has a favorite among the authors who have read at the store during his tenure there, he ticks off major-name local authors with national reputations: Hampton Sides, Michael McGarrity, and Anne Hillerman. “We have so many that are so big. It would be difficult to choose a particular one,” he says, sounding eager to get back to his books. Just a few more of the established and emerging writers who have passed through in recent years are self-help guru Deepak Chopra, humorist David Sedaris, Pulitzer Prize winner N. Scott Momaday, memoirist Marin Sardy, and Santa Fe poet laureate Elizabeth Jacobson.

“I was really struck by Dorothy and the way that she talked to me as a writer,” says Gabriel Tallent, who read at Collected Works in 2017 while touring internationally for his best-selling debut novel, My Absolute Darling (Riverhead Books). “She is incredibly perceptive, and the environment she fosters is what’s best about small independent bookstores.” He adds that his visit, “among many wonderful visits to small bookstores, stands out in my mind as a great reading environment and a place where I felt warmly welcomed.”

Cecile Lipworth is the store’s events curator. She arranges author visits, juggling about 20 requests for readings per week — far more than the store can accommodate. “Dorothy’s vast literary knowledge, her memory of every author and the books they’ve written, and what events have taken place in the store, is unmatched by anyone I know,” Lipworth says. “She’s one of the strongest women I’ve worked with, and her forthrightness sets important boundaries when working with the volume of authors and members of the public we talk with daily.”

Savvy as she may be about the book business, Massey refuses to accept flattery for it. “Santa Fe is a very literary town. The last time I looked, there were 17 independent bookstores,” she says. “When I moved here, this store was already successful. I did research all over the country to find a store that was already part of a community. As my daughter said to me at the time, ‘You’ll be better at running a bookstore than a muffler shop.’ ” 

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