Off the Beaten Path still crafting story 10 years after being bought, saved
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Ron and Sue Krall’s story has all the makings of a great literary novel. There are heroes and villains, there are plot twists and turns, and as readers keep flipping through the pages of the story of Off the Beaten Path bookstore they know it’s going to be a bestseller.
“The short story is that we were contemplating retiring here in 2008,” Ron said. “In the middle of 2007, we were out here and heard the bookstore was for sale.”
That was 10 years ago and that is where the Krall’s story begins.
Chapter 1: Unlikely Heroes
It was fall 2007 and Ron and Sue had all but decided on their retirement plans, and were looking into moving to Steamboat Springs where they owned a condominium, and enjoyed spending time in the community.
The Kralls returned home to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, but when they went back to Steamboat in December they learned the bookstore was still for sale, and that Dick and Leslie Ryan were considering closing the doors in January if a buyer did not come forward.
“We were a little dismayed by that, “ Ron said. “It was definitely our favorite place in town besides the mountain.”
At the time, the Kralls didn’t have any firm plans, and were primed to step into a role as the hero in a story where they would set out to save the bookstore from a rising empire that included powerful villains like Amazon that threatened independent bookstores like the Off the Beaten Path, which was struggling to survive in the snow-covered mountains of Steamboat.
“We just didn’t want to see the bookstore go away.” Sue said. “We were willing to do whatever was needed to make sure that did not happen.”
So in 2008, just months before the housing bubble burst and the economy crashed, the Kralls purchased the store in Steamboat Springs.
Chapter 2: The first of many twists
The good news was the Kralls loved books and now they owned a bookstore. Today the store has extensive collections of current literature, fiction, history and memoirs and books for young adults. The store also has greeting cards, games, puzzles, candles, journals, toys, chocolates and gifts.
“We had reached an agreement on everything with Dick and Leslie, but that was when we found out that we couldn’t stay in the building on Seventh Street. The developers had made the decision that they didn’t want the bookstore there, and that they wanted to develop the Ghost Ranch.”
The Kralls loved to read books, but there was no question that this adventure was going to be a learning experience. Their first lesson came shortly after they had closed on the bookstore.
Chapter 3: Finding a home
Sue still remembers sitting on the stair case of the Off the Beaten Path’s current location at 68 Ninth St. and wondering what she had gotten into.
“I sat on those steps and cried,” Sue said. “ I remember thinking, ’It doesn’t look like a book store.’”
Of course Ron and Sue had to work through many unforeseen adventures that presented themselves and this renovation included a loft that was not up to code, the addition of restrooms and a kitchen that was needed for the coffee shop.
The store moved into a temporary location west of town, but was essentially closed in January through April and most of May. The Kralls kept most of the staff on board through that time, but it was clear that the ends were not meeting.
Chapter 4: Weathering the storm
In 2008 the economy in the United States took a turn. The housing market collapsed, the stock market fell off the charts, and things like books and other forms of entertainment were no longer on the wishlist for many Americans.
It forced the Kralls to make a lot of difficult decisions, decisions that had to be made if the store was going to survive.
“We figured out that we could run the bookstore with fewer people,” Ron said. “It may sound harsh, but it was essential. In some ways it improved things here. Instead of having a lot of people with a very narrow jobs, everybody who works here now knows how to make a latte and they know how to sell a book.”
The Kralls said in the past 10 years they have made changes to keep up with the times. They added e-books. They also realized that they needed to carry a section of books that appealed to local interest. “It’s a challenging time to own a bookstore, especially in rural America,” store manager Chris Erickson, who has worked at Off the Beaten Path for more than 10 years. “Our biggest competitor is not another bookstore in town, but Amazon.”
Erickson said the bookstore offers something that customers will not find online — that personal touch, the smell of coffee and fresh baked goods that fill the store.
“It’s filled with good scents that really drive that home feeling,” Erickson said. “We’ve kept the coffeehouse and we have made it work to keep that ambiance of the store. I think without the coffee shop here, I don’t think we would be were we are today.”
Chapter 5: The story continues
Ten years after buying the store, the Kralls are happy with way the story of the Off the Beaten Path’s is unfolding. They said the lessons they have learned have made the business stronger and they feel that it is a fixture in downtown.
“It’s been a wonderful way for us to become part of the community, “ Ron said. “We know so many people that we would have never met.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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