By Lee Dubs
When Carol and I sold the Carolina Bookstore a few weeks ago after spending eleven years building it from a tiny shop with a few shelves and a handful of books in English into a large store with about 12,000 volumes in a dozen languages, a frequently asked question was, “Why did you sell it?” Our simplest answer was and continues to be the same: “Because it’s time.”
What does that mean?
The bookstore in some ways became a symbol of life itself. In our early adult years we embark on establishing a career and who we are. Employment opportunities present themselves, and we head in the direction where we feel most comfortable. Obstacles and bumps in the road are overcome as we move forward. By the time we are in our mid 30’s to early 40’s our feet are on the ground, we might be supporting a family, and we are recognized by colleagues and co-workers. We settle into a routine with which we are comfortable. We work hard all week and look forward to weekends and vacations; and so it goes week after week, month after month, year after year. One day we realize that the finish line is not so far away. Sooner than we expected, it’s time to begin a new chapter called retirement.
Our bookstore’s infancy began in late 2005 when we sold our first books. We were just half of the small Librería ABC on Padre Aguirre and Sucre. We shared that shop with an Ecuadorian friend who had been urging us for months to join her and sell books in English. Tourists from abroad had discovered Cuenca in the early 2000’s and many sought books to read while they traveled. After Carol told me one day that she had long harbored a secret dream to one day have “a little bookstore with a cat curled up in the corner,” we shipped some books from the States and hooked up with our friend Elena at the ABC shop.
As with life, we started small and grew. Elena taught us “the ropes” of operating a business in Cuenca and we learned. Sales were good and continued to increase as the months went by. Some bumps in the road did appear, and we knew we needed a larger space and more books. A change of venue became inevitable, and we began to look around. In life we call it exploring our options.
An unexpected event forced us to find a new location quickly. In July, 2008, a huge fire broke out one night in the upper floors of our building, apparently caused by a short circuit. All the street level businesses suffered extensive water damage from the fire hoses, and we all had to abandon the building. One of life’s crises to overcome. Our youth was over.
It was Carol who found the present location of what we named the Carolina Bookstore. What had once been a travel agency and sat vacant for many months became our bookstore. In human years, our enterprise was now past adolescence and well into adulthood, still establishing itself. We remodeled the whole inside with new lighting and electrical outlets, and over the following months and years we added bookcases and shelves, shipped several thousand books from the U.S., rented a second area in back, increased the staff from one to two and eventually three, reshaped offices on the mezzanine into classrooms for language instruction, and completely remodeled the bathroom.
The Carolina Bookstore had reached maturity. We became known to the foreign community as simply “the bookstore,” as in “I’ll meet you at the bookstore.”
As the business aged, so did we. Illness began to limit the mobility of the brains behind the operation – Carol. Maria, Diana, Karina and I carried on and sales remained good, but I long ago had started to feel the pressures of teaching classes at two universities and at the bookstore, helping Carol and Maria oversee our business operations and handle Carol’s increasing physical challenges, doing some writing, serving on two government committees, giving occasional speeches, and dealing with the frustration of my own deteriorating hearing. What in Ecuador is called the Third Age was chasing us and catching up.
Yes, it was time. In life, there comes a time to slow down, take stock, and clean up your mess. Some folks never quite do that, chugging along right to the end and leaving their mess for the kids to sort through and clean up. No, the time comes to clean out the corners and shelves of one’s life and go through those many cardboard boxes of an accumulated existence, deciding what to pass along to others and what to simply discard. “It’s time” does not have to mean it’s winter; it can mean it’s still autumn but time to prepare for winter. Remember that grasshopper and the ants?
The Carolina Bookstore is still in its prime, but the founders themselves are not. It’s time to pass the keys to a new, young generation with fresh ideas and plans. It’s time for Carol and me to spend more of each day together. It’s time to stop working and enjoy the days, months, and years we have left. It’s time to stop accumulating and to start cleaning up.
We sold our bookstore because it’s time.