Running a successful independent bookstore could be likened to writing a gripping novel: What’s needed in both are characters readers believe in.
And that’s what the longtime owners of Tucson’s Antigone Books are looking for now — just the right person to carry on Antigone’s story.
Trudy Mills and Kate Randall announced on Tuesday their plans to sell the store.
The longtime business partners have helped local readers for decades, made people laugh with their store’s zany gifts and cards, and challenged many to think more, or differently, about human rights and the environment.
“We’re not after the fastest deal or the best financial deal,” said Mills, “but the best match.”
Within a day of their announcement, eight people had inquired with Paz & Associates, the Florida-based consultants Mills and Randall have hired to handle the sale process.
Antigone Books, which opened in 1973, is named after the Greek mythological character who defied masculine authority. At first, the store at 411 N. Fourth Ave. offered only feminist literature and research, but over time expanded in both size and what’s offered.
Mills and Randall, who have been business partners almost 27 years, said their store is doing well, with profits increasing consistently over the last five years.
It was Mills, 64, who first purchased the store, in 1987.
A former sociology professor, Mills had been teaching women’s studies at the University of Arizona and says she lost her job over its refusal to give her maternity leave.
“I had the audacity to have a child,” she said, with a laugh.
Around that time, Antigone Books went up for sale. (The original owners were Barbara Atwood, Pat Kelly and Jonnie Cunningham, who pooled $1,500 to open what was then one of the country’s first feminist bookstores.)
The years with Antigone Books have been wonderful, Mills said, and she’s not in a rush to sell.
“The thing that’s interesting to me about the store is that it kind of grew up and has changed as the times have changed,” she said.
What’s for sale is the store, but not the building, Mills said. They plan to keep the building for now to ensure it’s a space for the book store and not some other enterprise.
Randall, 53, said she started working there “by total fluke.” She was in her mid-20s at the time and had been looking for a job waiting tables when she decided to apply at Antigone Books.
“At the time, the store was really small,” she said. “It was Trudy and one other staff person who, it turns out, was planning to leave to return to school.”
After a couple of years, she became a partner and ran the store for a year while Mills traveled with her husband and young daughter.
“There have been a lot of lucky moments,” Randall said of Antigone and her years there.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’m not approaching retirement age yet, but I realize that I’m ready to do something different.”
Randall’s job is buying the non-book items for the store, which she enjoys.
“We really have a great time looking for things that will make customers laugh or things that would make them think,” she said. “It’s been great. I feel so thankful to the Tucson community for being so supportive.”
Owning a bookstore is different from other retail endeavors, said Mark Kaufman of Paz & Associates, because book prices are established ahead of time and written right on the book cover.
Kaufman said his business, which he operates with his wife, Donna Paz Kaufman, is focused on helping people open new independent bookstores or buy existing ones.
“The good news is that independent bookstores, as a whole, have reported their best year this past year, in 2015,” he said. And double-digit growth is being reported so far this year, he said.
Kaufman said studies are showing this is attributable to people experiencing screen fatigue and wanting reading to return to being a “tactile experience.”
The consultants have already provided Antigone Books with a valuation process, taking into consideration their five-year tax history, their profit and loss statements, their cash flow, tangible assets and intangible ones, such as the size of their mailing list and services they provide to the community.
The findings, which he declined to reveal, will provide a starting point for negotiating a price with a would-be buyer, he said.
Those who inquire and are serious about making an offer are asked to fill out a questionnaire and sign a confidentiality agreement as they move through the process, he said.
“For them,” he said of Mills and Randall, “it’s not as much about the money but someone to preserve the legacy they’ve created.”