Words by Katey Perdoni, Photos by Becca Simonds
The leaders of Colorado Springs’ new contemporary bookstore Mountain Fold Books, Marina Eckler and Jonathan Fey, began a journey specializing in small press literature often ignored by the commercial marketplace. Their intent? To provide a space for myriad community events while fostering the physical act of reading.
“It’s an interesting time to be starting a bookstore,” Marina noted. A Colorado native, Jonathan completed his undergrad in English Literature at UCCS. Marina, a visual artist, studied painting, printmaking, and book arts at San Francisco State and now teaches Art at UCCS. “I first became interested in visual art through music—through album art, T-shirts, posters, zines and that sort of thing,” Marina said. Marina and Jonathan were linked up in the summer of 2013 during a reading series Marina and her husband Noel host at their home called “Say Hello to your Last Poem.” A mutual friend introduced them knowing the two had similar literary visions. “I just remember talking in my kitchen about what I had been envisioning for a bookstore here, and what Jonathan’s ideas were, and we both thought that one supported the other,” Marina said.
From that initial idea, Marina and Jonathan explored what physical space the bookstore could inhabit. “It went through so many different iterations,” Jonathan said. “At one point, we were thinking it was definitely going to be a bookmobile sort of thing. There were just so many ideas that we went through and knocked off because one thing or another wasn’t right.”
“We ended up with a list of criteria for what the bookstore would need,” Marina said. “One of the things was its own door. Another was running water, and then electricity. Just the basics. I also thought it would be handy to be somewhat close to the Gallery of Contemporary Art downtown, and maybe within the corridor of where Shuga’s restaurant is. And low and behold, we saw this space, and it really is right in between.”
With a new apartment complex called the Blue Dot Place going up next door, Marina is looking forward to new neighbors and foot traffic. “I think this was a lucky find because this is a developing part of the city,” Marina said. “For us, the nuts and bolts was that we could afford the rent, and that makes a lot of things possible that wouldn’t otherwise be.”
Recognizing the potential for a bookstore that focuses on hosting local events and fostering a literary culture, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation awarded a start-up ingenuity grant to Mountain Fold in 2014. As a new, creative enterprise, Marina and Jonathan debated whether to run their business as a for- or non-profit, but said they had always leaned toward non-profit. “For-profit, to me, means that we would have to sell things that are maybe already being sold in town. And we’re hoping to provide access to books and art and ideas that are not already here,” Marina said. Non-profit status also enables citizens to support Mountain Fold Books with a tax deductible contribution, which Marina says is significant, as well as allowing the organization to purchase books and materials tax-free. With the Pikes Peak Community Foundation serving as Mountain Fold Books’ fiscal sponsor, the bookstore is able to operate under their umbrella of community engagement.
“I think the partnership is a really natural one in the sense that what they do is very much in line with what we’re trying to do,” Jonathan said. “They’ve been helping out as far as mentorship goes. What’s been nice is that they’ve trusted in our intuition from the start, so they’ve been hands-off in some really great ways as well. ”
Jonathan said the duo looked at many different models and examples of people living in the “weird world somewhere between libraries and book stores. There are enough people out there that are doing something kind of similar. There are co-op bookstores, and there are small independent libraries and reading rooms. I think we picked and chose a lot of the good elements that would fit from people who were doing something similar.”
Both artists were inspired by Counterpath in Denver––Marina said rolling a bookstore, gallery, press, and venue into one space was a definite influence. Marina was also inspired by Adobe Books in San Francisco, a “real mish-mash of a used book store” in the Mission District. A dusty, cat-filled space, Marina said Adobe Books is packed with “layers and layers of people’s ideas. They had a little tiny dedicated gallery in the back. You’d have to go through curtains and stuff, and there was always a secret clubhouse kind of feeling. At the same time, they would turn out some of the most inspiring and exciting art shows and artists in the whole city. And they were doing it with very little. So that’s been an ongoing inspiration for me.” Both were also inspired by Ugly Duckling Press in New York, where readings and events are hosted that are known for engaging a wide breadth of the community. Likewise, in the less than four months since its doors opened, Mountain Fold has hosted at least a dozen events including book and poetry readings, a local zine and comic exhibition, and a night of writers from the West Bank and Gaza telling personal stories about the challenges of their daily lives. An overnight reading of Beowulf is scheduled for early 2015, and a shape note singing event is in the works.
“The days we get the most people through the door are those events. They’ve been great for exploring what a space like this can do in the community, and how many different sorts of groups we can reach,” Jonathan said. “That’s been really exciting, to see people who I’ve never seen before here, and to wonder how they heard about the event,” Marina added.
The bookstore’s first reading was with Colorado Springs hip hop artist, writer and playwright Idris Goodwin. “That one [event] told us how many people we could cram in here,” Marina said. “It gave us an idea of how many chairs we would need, and how to clear the room to fit more people.”
“One of the most exciting events we had was an American Sign Language poetry night,” Jonathan recounts. “It was basically a reverse translation of sign language, but then the poetry itself was just signed. There were something like 90 people here. We just had no idea how big the signing community is here in town.” The willingness of its creators to maintain Mountain Fold Books as a community arts hub has led to the organic shaping and evolution of what the space has become. “There isn’t a structure that’s asking if it’s PC,” Jonathan said. “So there aren’t a lot of barriers,” Marina completed.
For a current list of events and hours of operation, visit MountainFoldBooks.org.
This article was originally published on Colorado Collective and was used here with permission of the author.