#DesiLitBiz: Arvin Ram on running Townie Books and why indie bookstores matter more than ever

About Arvin Ram

Arvin Ram (Ramgoolam) is the 2020 One Story Adina Talve-Goodman Fellow and a 2022 MacDowell Fellow. He is the father of twin six-year-old girls and owns Townie Books and Rumors Coffee and Tea House with his wife, Danica, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Born in Trinidad and Tobago and raised in Miami Beach, he felt strangely at home in a ski town 9,000 feet above sea level. His stories can be found at The Normal School and The Jellyfish Review. He is on Twitter and Instagram.

About Townie Books

Townie Books is a main street bookstore in Crested Butte, Colorado, (Ute Territory.) We have a wonderful staff of passionate booksellers who care about the business and the community we serve. Our bookstore also has its own café called Rumors Coffee and Tea House. While the population of the town is small, we also serve a seasonal population and visitors. If you can’t visit in person (and we hope you do), you can go on our website or see what’s going on around town and the shop on Facebook and Instagram.

Arvin Ram and his wife, Danica, are co-owners of Townie Books, a main street bookstore in Crested Butte, CO (Ute Territory.) He discusses what it’s like to run a physical community bookstore in #DesiLitBiz @DesiBooks

Desi Books: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about how and why Townie Books came into existence, please.

Arvin Ram: My wife and I opened Townie Books in the adjacent space to our existing café, Rumors, in 2011. We had a partner who closed the used bookstore and we felt very strongly that our small rural town needed a bookstore. Even against the odds of Amazon, we believed that we could make a difference in the literary ecosystem of our town and, someday, Western Colorado. So, even as the US economy was still in recovery mode, we doubled down after opening the café in 2009, (the deepest part of the recession), and opened the bookshop with very little money.

Desi Books: Tell us a bit about the aesthetics of the bookstore. Do you specialize in certain genres or subjects? Are there any particular kinds of books you or your visitors prefer?

Arvin Ram: We have a very general aesthetic to the shop focusing on new titles. As we’ve come to know our local customers and visitors, we’ve curated our selection between the tastes of both groups and the books we are individually passionate about. In the last year, we’ve increased the number of Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ books with the addition of a basket of free books, paid for by people in the community, who want young people who are struggling with identity to have access to information they may not have a way of attaining. Crested Butte is also a big hub for outdoor enthusiasts. Books and guides on hiking, biking, birding, climbing, fishing, wildflowers, skiing, mountaineering, and regional Western history are important to the character of the bookshop.

Desi Books: You’re pretty involved with the local community, right? Do you host community events? What are some other ways, as a local business and bookstore owner, that you engage with the community around you or even virtually? Why do you think it’s important to do so?

Arvin Ram: We are always enthusiastic to get involved with our community in our business. We love hosting events for campaigning local, gubernatorial, and senate candidates and providing space for artists to display their work. My wife and I are also deeply and personally committed to our community by serving on nonprofit boards like High Country Conservation Advocates and the Crested Butte Center for the Arts. We started out with the café-half of our business first because we really wanted to create a space to strengthen the bonds of our small community and provide a space for creators and thinkers.

A climate march supported by Townie Books on Main Street, Crested Butte, Colorado
A ghost story play in fall outside the store. 

“We started out with the café-half of our business first because we really wanted to create a space to strengthen the bonds of our small community and provide a space for creators and thinkers.” Arvin Ram on Townie Books #DesiLitBiz @DesiBooks

Desi Books: What are a couple of challenges and successes of running an indie bookstore? What characteristics do you think a person needs to be a successful independent bookstore owner beyond the obvious one of loving books?

Arvin Ram: The challenges change from year to year, but the main one is maintaining a steady, well-curated selection in our small store. Our visitors and locals are voracious readers and staying up-to-date on upcoming titles they may not know about and books we champion in our space is important. Of course, the existence of Amazon and showrooming (browsing and then purchasing online) is a problem for bookstores everywhere. But I think we provide a high level of service that patrons really value and support. The biggest success for us is being in business for over ten years and thriving with thanks to so many people who feel they have a personal stake in the existence of the bookstore.

My wife and I have the parts and pieces between each other for successfully running our store. She’s very attentive to the numbers and keeping our stock managed through ordering and returns and keeping her finger on the financial pulse of the business. I’m the writer-dreamer. I’m deeply invested in the lives of everyone that walks into the doors of our store and have come to know people from new transplants to first-time visitors to generations of families vacationing in the area. Communication is a vital aspect of this work, from our regulars and staff, to our landlord and elected officials. Being in touch with all levels of the business is key to knowing everyone’s needs, including your own.

Arvin Ram and Danica, co-owners of Townie Books and Rumors Coffee and Tea House

Desi Books: What is a typical day in the life of a bookseller? How many hours a day (or week) do you devote to the business? Could you share a couple of things that many people (who don’t run bookstores) don’t often realize about running a bookstore?

Arvin Ram: I’m the person holding court over the fourth cup of coffee, getting a laugh, and handselling a book the customer never planned on buying in the first place. Owning the bookshop is sometimes a twenty-four hour ordeal. On the night before a big holiday like Independence Day or Christmas Eve, we are stocking and preparing for the next day. Bookkeeping and ordering front list titles for the upcoming season where we meet via phone with our reps is a big part of the behind-the-scenes work. There is no really typical day.

Some days, it snows a few feet and we have to clear our paths while there are three to four of us in the bookshop putting out the day’s orders, handselling, and taking special orders. While I’m also doing a quick repair on the espresso machine. One thing that people find surprising is that we never have time to read in the store. Most people imagine a sleepy experience working in a bookshop and wistfully dream of how nice it would be to retire and own a bookshop. But, sometimes, we spend hours without a moment’s rest.

“Some days, it snows a few feet and we have to clear our paths . . .” Arvin Ram on running Townie Books in Crested Butte, CO (Ute Territory)

“I’m the person holding court over the fourth cup of coffee, getting a laugh, and handselling a book the customer never planned on buying in the first place.” Arvin Ram on running Townie Books #DesiLitBiz @DesiBooks

Desi Books: Please talk about the current, ongoing supply chain issues in the book world. Especially for those who don’t know about it or why it’s happening.

Arvin Ram: In our store, we normally begin winter orders in the late summer. So we have some idea of what a popular book may be for the holidays (the new Will Smith book, for instance) and order with that expectation. This year, our book reps encouraged us to order early in anticipation of supply chain issues. So there was more pressure to place orders. As a small store with limited space and a history of sales, we have a certain level of agility that a large store does not in tackling supply issues. We do that communicating directly with our customers as to what availability looks like for specific titles that come directly from suppliers. We have also been speaking with our customers for months now about this and encouraging them to buy early, even before they normally begin to shop.

Desi Books: If someone were to ask you now for advice on owning and running a bookstore, what are the one or two key things you’d share? Maybe even advice you wish someone might have given you when you were getting started?

Arvin Ram: Watching your overhead in any business is important. But another key aspect with exploding commercial rent is staying in communication with your landlord. When the pandemic hit, we were blessed with a landlord who reached out immediately to talk about what we could anticipate in the coming months. This is because we keep a very open line of communication. If you have a property manager, a complicated lease, and have never spoken directly with the owner of the property, then you have a recipe for a bad situation. Bookstores are assets to towns and commercial renters know this because they make surrounding properties more desirable. There is bargaining power if you go into this business knowing that.

The advice I wish I’d gotten was that there is a midpoint between your own taste and the tastes of your clientele and it takes a little time to figure this out.

“The advice I wish I’d gotten was that there is a midpoint between your own taste and the tastes of your clientele and it takes a little time to figure this out.” Arvin Ram on running Townie Books #DesiLitBiz @DesiBooks

Desi Books: What do you think the future looks like for indie booksellers? What do you think you and fellow indie booksellers might need to be doing more/less of?

Arvin Ram: The future is bright for booksellers. Bookstores are the beating hearts of towns across the country and are examples of the great American small business—scrappy, agile, and optimistic. Passion and creativity have helped us survive economic downturns, tech era behemoths, and now a pandemic.

One thing I think booksellers and bookshop owners should keep doing is educating people on the necessity for independent bookstores in the age of Amazon. Not only as a place of business but as a place for ideas and genuine connection. We should also be pushing for publishers to offer better wholesale pricing. I think this is the key to a more equitable literary ecosystem. Everyone, from authors to consumers, would benefit from this shift. If our store could keep more of the sales we make, we would invest that money into improving wages and benefits and take more chances on independent releases, for example.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine, Colorado author and National Book Award finalist, reading from her debut story collection, Sabrina and Corina
Leath Tonino reads from his book, The West Will Swallow You

Arvin Ram of Townie Books on the necessity of indie bookstores: “Not only as a place of business but as a place for ideas and genuine connection.” #DesiLitBiz @DesiBooks

Desi Books: Now you’re a writer as well. That’s how we first connected on Twitter. Tell us about your writing journey. You’ve had a busy time lately with fellowships (congrats!) and competitions and such. What’s next, if you’re able to share?

Arvin Ram: Yes! One of my favorite parts of being a writer on Twitter is connecting with you and so many others and creating the community I’ve always needed. Thank you for the congrats! I’m mostly looking forward to a year of writing and getting a first draft of my novel completed. I’ll be driving around the desert Southwest researching landscapes for the book examining mythologies of the Old West and centering BIPOC communities in the modern American West. My life has shifted because of the generosity of my wife and staff to help me make more time for writing in my life and I’m lucky to have found myself in that space.

Desi Books: Tell us about one or two near-term things coming up for Townie Books that you’re most excited about, please.

Arvin Ram: We are very excited about the Mountain Words Literary Festival on Memorial Day weekend in 2022. Our local literary landscape has grown to where we can play a part in highlighting local and regional voices as well as bringing nationally recognized authors to our little piece of paradise.

Desi Books: How can readers best support your bookstore (and any indie bookstore, really)?

Arvin Ram: Most bookstores have used the pandemic to upgrade their online ordering to a system where books can either be shipped directly from our supplier to the consumer or books can be ordered then picked up in person. We can be found at towniebookscb.com and you’ll get a very friendly note from me or one of the staff when you place your order.

Desi Books: Thank you so much for making the time, Arvin. We’ll close with the usual question: what’s your favorite desi book and why? Any genre, any language. It could also just be a book you’ve recently read and really enjoyed versus an all-time favorite.

Arvin Ram: There are so many to love but for now, I’d like to highlight Rajiv Mohabir’s Antiman: A Hybrid Memoir. It shatters so many boundaries in writing and addresses so many questions and themes I think about as an immigrant writer from the Indian diaspora. How do we, as Indo-Caribbean people, fit into the national conversation about race, class, culture, and assimilation? How do our communities address queerness? How do we contend with colonialism and the collective struggle in our families to simultaneously forget and remember our culture as we traverse the globe?

Fave desi book of Arvin Ram of Townie Books: “Rajiv Mohabir’s Antiman […] shatters so many boundaries in writing and addresses so many questions and themes I think about as an immigrant writer from the Indian diaspora.” #DesiLitBiz @DesiBooks

Thank you so much for this, Jenny! I am honored to be a part of the #DesiLitBiz conversation.

Click through to read more about Arvin Ram and Townie Books.

Arvin Ram and his wife, Danica, are co-owners of Townie Books, a main street bookstore in Crested Butte, CO (Ute Territory.) He discusses what it’s like to run a physical community bookstore in #DesiLitBiz @DesiBooks


A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.™
Share your appreciation. Sign up for the free, weekly newsletter.


Join the Conversation