Toad Hall Children's Bookstore is closing at the end of August, and store supporters are none too happy about it.
Toad Hall to Close
Toad Hall Children's Bookstore, which has a 23-year history in Austin, will close on August 31. The recent decision by store owner Barbara Thomas has induced surprise and regret in authors, educators, parents, children, and fellow independent booksellers across the nation. Carol Ann Isbell, a school librarian in Georgetown who routinely benefitted from the expertise of the Toad Hall staff and their ability to send some of the country's best children's authors to schools all across the region, was in the store the day the decision was made. "I had just been to a funeral," she says, "so they wouldn't tell me while my family was out in the car. I was out picking up books to start my storytimes for the first week of school ... so that whole weekend I was terribly depressed. ... They can't be replaced."
"I went to lots of conferences and people all over the country knew Toad Hall," Louis Sachar, author of the National Book Award-winning Holes, says. "If a place like that fails, it just shows what's happening to the book industry, that it's all run by large stores and the Internet and it's hard to compete," Sachar says, mimicking almost word for word what other authors and industry insiders are saying. All of them point to Toad Hall's loyal customers and the staff's talent at placing the right book in the right hands as proof that the store can't possibly be closing. "A city like Austin can't support [Toad Hall]? I think that's slightly alarming," Jack Gantos, author of the Joey Pigza series and the Rotten Ralph picture books, says. "And even though Toad Hall had a loyal following, maybe it takes more than just the cadre of loyal followers. I just think that the city is poorer because of the loss."
Has it really gotten to the point in Austin where the entities that contribute most to the "quality of life" are no longer able to survive the prosperity? What does it require for a bookstore to make it if not loyal customers and a reputation as one of the best children's bookstores in the nation? "If I knew the answer to that, maybe we wouldn't be closing," says Tiffany Durham, store manager, who at this point is actually able to laugh slightly while saying that. "We tried to be more than just a bookstore," she says. "We tried to be a community center, we tried to be a place where we had a vast knowledge of books that people could pull from, we tried to be a place where we provided entertainment and a love of reading." Four months ago, Toad Hall moved from its noticeable bright yellow building in the 26 Doors shopping center to 4520 Burnet. Its lease was up, and Thomas, who from 1996-98 was the president of the American Booksellers Association, the organization that fights to keep business practices fair in the bookselling industry, was hoping to find a site where the rent wasn't as expensive. But the store had been struggling for a while and Thomas, who was unavailable for comment at press time, thought it was time for her to retire. Rather than opt to sell the store to someone, she decided to preserve what Toad Hall had meant to the community. In the days leading up to August 31, store inventory will be discounted up to 45%.
"The thing that most strikes me about a really fine bookstore like Toad Hall is that you could tell the kids had been there before," author Kevin Henkes (Wemberly Worried), says. "And they'd been there a lot and they felt comfortable there and they loved the people who worked there and the people who worked there loved the kids and that's not apparent everywhere."