The Book Barn in Red Bluff
● By Melissa Mendonca
The Next ChapterJanuary 2015
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos: Michelle Hickok
Those of us in smaller North State communities have made peace with the fact that occasionally we’ll have to travel to bigger towns for things not available in our area. We resign ourselves to journeys of 30-45 minutes every so often to take care of needs we just can't meet at home.
Sometimes, though, we just don’t want to travel. A few intrepid entrepreneurs will do something about it. They’ll bravely open a store in their home town, hoping others will decide to shop local for their particular product.
Such is the case with Jack and Linda Gaines, proprietors of Red Bluff ’s Book Barn, a used bookstore celebrating 14 years of keeping Tehama County residents at home for their reading needs.
In 1991, the couple arrived in Red Bluff after evaluating their Southern California lifestyle and realizing they wanted out of the rat race. Jack's daughter's husband had died suddenly, sending shock waves through the couple. “Maybe we should change our lives now and enjoy our lives before something happens,” Linda recalls thinking.
A land ad in a trade paper attracted them to Red Bluff. “We didn’t have any idea what we
were going to do when we got here,” she adds. “For the first year we just goofed off.” They started building a workshop for Jack, but she says, “If it got hot, we’d go to the lake.” “We didn’t even feel like we needed a vacation for the first couple of years because we felt like were on vacation,” she says. “It was so beautiful.”
Eventually, though, they knew it was time to figure out an income. Neither were anywhere near retirement age.
“We were always going to Redding and Chico to buy used books,” Linda says, noting that their idea to open the Book Barn was spurred from their own quest. They bought a vacant building and put a small metal building on it for their store. “We did a lot of the construction work ourselves,” she says.
Then they rented a truck and set out for Montana, Sacramento and Long Beach to buy out inventories of used bookstores. They opened with 18,000 titles, “which looked really puny on all of these shelves,” says Linda. “But they began to fill up quickly with people coming in to trade.”
Before they knew it, people from other towns were traveling to Red Bluff for their used books.
Fourteen years later, Jack and Linda are at a more realistic retirement age. Jack keeps busy in his workshop and with long-distance bike rides, coming in to the store less and less. Linda keeps up with the bookkeeping but is eager for more time to travel and quilt, a hobby she took up soon after moving to the area, when she fell in with the Sun Country Quilt Guild.
An uptick in business three years ago had her realizing that she couldn’t keep up the store on her own. Yet, she wasn’t quite sure how to bring in the help she might need. That all changed, however, when she answered the call of hunger.
“I was in town doing errands and I walked into Burger King and ordered lunch,” Linda recalls. She was struck by the professionalism of the young man who took her order and asked him if he was interested in a part-time job.
Phillip Moller, that young Burger King employee, wasn't particularly bookish. He'd graduated Red Bluff High School with a dismal grade point average and ended up in a year of remediation at Shasta College. “It certainly wasn’t from lack of ability; it was a lack of interest,” he says of his high school years.
Saying yes to Linda’s offer proved to be a turning point in his life. Quickly moving up from shelving books to taking on more serious responsibilities, it was only a few months before Linda was able to leave the shop to him on his own. Before long, Phillip took an interest in the books he was selling.
And he got serious about his studies. Linda and Jack began helping him research high-demand careers and had him job shadow hospital administrators in Southern California. “Every semester he gets his classes lined up and we sit down and figure out our schedule,” says Linda.
Today, Phillip is keeping the store going between classes in hospital administration at Chico State. Linda is able to join Jack more often for travels, in complete trust of her protege. “Phillip is family now,” she says.
“I couldn’t have done it without working here,” he says with confidence.
The Book Barn
619 Oak Street, Red Bluff