SEASIDE SPOTLIGHT: Our latest profile in a series focused on the behind-the-scenes movers who make Seaside the unique destination it is today. Next. Previously.
Many have dreamed of quitting their jobs, moving to the Oregon Coast and opening a bookstore. For most of us, it remains a fantasy. But for Karen Emmerling, that dream became reality in 2005 when she opened Beach Books in Seaside. Today this welcoming independent bookstore is the literary anchor of one of Oregon’s favorite coastal towns.
Bookstore proprietor wasn’t Emmerling’s first career. Before starting the shop, she worked in television and advertising, and she co-owned Gearhart Ironwerks with her blacksmith husband (recently transformed into a custom knife-making operation called John Emmerling Knives). But after attending Wordstock (now Portland Book Festival) in 2005, she realized that wrought iron and ad sales might not be her calling after all.
“I walked into the convention center and I just felt immediately, instantly at home,” says Emmerling. “This is where I should have been all my life.”
Beach Books opened its doors not long afterward. Today Emmerling says part of the store’s success is a sterling roster of fantastic employees, including store manager Alexa Butler, who started working at Beach Books in high school and stuck around. “We’re real friendly here, and people come in because they like the staff,” Emmerling says.
That friendly touch even extends to the often-impersonal realm of online sales. Every online order from Beach Books comes wrapped with a personalized note. The staff also try to pass on advance reader copies — preview copies of books sent to retailers by publishers — to customers with an interest in the author or genre.
“I really am a lousy salesperson unless I am really passionate about something, which I am about books,” says Emmerling. “I love putting the right book in the right hands. It doesn’t feel like selling.”
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Emmerling believes it’s actually been a good time for booksellers. Local support has been strong, and online orders have poured in from around the country.
“The pandemic taught us to appreciate the people who are in our community who are going to be there for you,” says Emmerling — like independent booksellers. “If you value having a bookstore, it says something good about a community.”
Although online sales are still brisk, Emmerling relates that she’s relieved to be back with open doors, welcoming visitors and locals alike to browse shelves stocked with mysteries, nonfiction, memoirs, poetry, novels, young adult and kids’ books, cookbooks and more.
Karen’s Beach-Read Recommendations
Beach Books stocks all genres, including as many local authors as they know about. Emmerling is partial to novels when it comes to a great beach read. She shared three of her recent favorites, and what she liked about each one.
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
“The story takes place in an aquarium, and there’s a very precocious octopus who likes to roam around the aquarium at night. The octopus has a connection with an older woman, and it’s just a delight. It’s heartwarming. There’s more to the story than just the octopus. It’s really quite wonderful.”
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
“The story takes place in the early ’60s. A woman chemist is pregnant by her boss, and they are not married, and so she is fired. The only job she can get, because she has to raise this child, is as a television cooking-show hostess. She takes the opportunity to teach chemistry to her viewers. It’s quite timely, but it also has a lot of humor and warmth.”
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
“Book Lovers is the story of an editor and a book critic who have a contentious relationship. They end up in a small town together. The editor is taken there by her sister, who has this list of things they’re to do while they’re there, and she and the critic become interconnected.”
If none of those sound quite right for your own leisurely reading needs, stop by Beach Books for a personalized recommendation. Then settle in on a beach blanket (or in a relaxing Seaside coffee house, perhaps) and lose yourself in a great story.