SLC bookseller holds on tight to community

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The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City has weathered a number of changes in the book industry since it opened in 1977, but its reputation for placing the community first has remained constant. Betsy Burton, one of the store’s co-founders, attributes a large part of that to bookseller Anne Holman.

Holman’s life was impacted by books at a young age, long before she made an impact on the community as a bookseller.

“Somebody would come over and play with me, and I’d be on one side of the bed reading a book and they’d be on the other side of the bed playing with a toy,” Holman said. “It was hard to tear myself away from the book.”

Holman’s love for books eventually led her to The King’s English, where she met Burton through a mutual friend. Burton quickly realized she wanted Holman to join the bookstore’s team.

Anne Holman runs and manages The King’s English bookstore in Salt Lake City. (Anne Holman)

Holman joined the staff in 2000, stepping into an industry on the verge of rapid change because of the rise of online retailers and inventions like e-readers.

Online retailers are one of the largest challenges facing many brick-and-mortar stores, according to Holman. Her experience as a bookseller has made her adamant about supporting local businesses before shopping on websites like Amazon.

“I’m not an algorithm,” Holman said. “You can’t replace the person in the bookstore who knows you and knows what you like.”

Holman has since become a co-owner of The King’s English since joining 16 years ago. She manages the staff, orders books and runs events at the store, among other things. She’s also the president of the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association and works with other independent booksellers in the region. She even runs the neighborhood business district.

Meg Sherman is a sales representative for W. W. Norton & Company. She sells books to independent bookstores in the region, including The King’s English and the BYU Store. Sherman has worked with Holman for years. Holman’s impact extends far beyond the bookshelves of The King’s English, according to Sherman.

“Anne is a very savvy bookseller who’s able to see a larger picture beyond just her own bookstore,” Sherman said. “She’s able to work with our independent region and look at what’s going on in the industry at large.”

Holman’s many responsibilities haven’t deterred her from the core of the store’s spirit, according to Burton. She said it is individuals like Holman who make a difference when it comes to local businesses.

“She never lost sight of the importance of the customer and the importance of community,” Burton said. “That’s what differentiates us from large chains and Amazon.”

The King’s English bookstore is located in the Sugar House district of Salt Lake City. It’s a popular social hub for locals. (Saul Marquez)

Community is one of the most important things in Holman’s mind. She values the relationships she has with customers and cherishes their shared experiences. Online businesses might offer convenience, but they can’t offer genuine and personal interaction, Holman said.

“People are figuring out that they want to be part of a community,” Holman said. “If you want to be part of a community, that means you have to interact. If you have your diapers, books and meals delivered to your home, that becomes lonely.”

The connections she makes are often personal. By getting to know one of the store’s frequent visitors Holman learned more about her grandmother, who passed away when Holman was 6 years old.

“We started talking one day and I realized that she had been a good friend of my grandmother’s,” Holman said. “Now I suddenly knew this woman who had known my grandmother in a totally different time and place. I got to know my grandmother in a whole different way.”

It’s not the just customers making an impact on Holman; she’s also changed the lives of community members. Some of her favorite experiences involve introducing children to books.

“I put a book in this boy’s hand and his mother came back a year later with tears in her eyes and said, ‘It’s because of you that he’s reading,'” Holman said.

Creating an atmosphere of warmth and acceptance is a key part of Holman’s mission and vision for The King’s English, said Ann Cannon, a fellow bookseller at the store.

“She’s warm and friendly with everyone who walks through the door,” Cannon said. “She emphasizes this at staff meetings. She says, ‘Make this the best 15 minutes everyone has during their day.'”

The success of Holman’s mission is reflected in the attitudes of the customers themselves. One customer walked in through the front door of the bookstore during a recent event with a wide grin on her face.

“It’s like my home sweet home,” she said, turning to the employees behind the counter.

Holman’s influence is felt by everyone, say those who know her. Customers, colleagues, authors and the community at large feel her positive influence. It’s her ability to uplift so many that makes her great, Burton said.

“It’s an extraordinary family to be a part of — and she’s made all of that truer,” Burton said. “It was my lucky day when she came to the store, but I think it was hers too.”

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