Wednesday, July 17, 2024

A rare bookshop enters its twilight phase

| May 29, 2024 7:40 AM


For the Hungry Horse News

Located off Lake Blaine Road, Parkland Books has been a treasure trove for bibliophiles seeking national park books and publications or rare and out-of-print books.

Customers who visit Parkland Books today will see the shop in a period of transition. Owners Ed and Marge Rothfuss are downsizing after nearly three decades in the valley. Any remaining inventory will be stocked at a booth they rent and recently expanded in the Antiques Market located downstairs of Western Outdoor on Main Street in Kalispell.

The motivation to completely operate out of the Antiques Market is due to health reasons Ed said, with his wife, Marge, undergoing chemotherapy

“She’s under her third year fighting ovarian cancer which is tough,” he said. “Up until three years ago, she was in here every day.”

The Rothfusses started Parkland Books as a part-time retirement business. It was an extension of Marge’s career as a bookstore owner and former librarian. The bookshop’s specialization in national parks, the outdoors and the West is linked to Ed’s 34-year career with the National Park Service, which he retired from as superintendent of Death Valley National Monument in 1994. Following his retirement, Marge hired him to work at the Las Vegas bookstore she opened in 1992. 

The Rothfusses lived in the Flathead Valley throughout the 1970s when Ed was chief interpreter in Glacier National Park. In 1976, the couple bought the farm at 850 Lake Blaine Road where the bookshop is located. Returning to Montana in 1998, the Rothfusses had an addition built onto their converted garage and opened Parkland Books.

INSIDE THE red painted bookshop Ed stood behind a counter on a Wednesday afternoon surrounded by books, magazines, ephemera and collectibles both vintage and antique. On the floor, stacks of books trail around packed bookshelves. 

A breeze rushed in, rustling pages, as the door opened and a customer walked in looking for a book on firearms to aid him on a project building a muzzleloader.

“You had a good stock of hunting books and firearms one time I was here,” Aiden DeLong said after leisurely perusing the selection of books around the shop.

Ed said most of those books on those topics had been sold a while ago as the two fell into a conversation about firearms, including a story of how Ed came to inherit his grandfather’s muzzleloader.

DeLong said he first stopped by Parkland Books as a young student years ago with his mom, a teacher in the valley. He began frequenting both Mountain Brook Community Library and Parkland Books, but hadn’t been to the shop in a while. Walking around the back of the nearly-emptied bookshop, he pulled a book down from a shelf and leafed through it, recalling how the space used to be lined with bookshelves.

“It is sad hearing the recent news. That’s one of the reasons I’m currently in,” Aiden said. “I wish that these books could go to good homes for people to enjoy because sadly, knowledge is lost and books are thrown away when they shouldn’t be.”

Ed assured him the shop would continue to operate below Western Outdoor and to check out booth No. 75.

“People ask are we getting out of the business completely — no. We’re greatly reducing,” he said.

The thought books being thrown away led Ed to recall a time about the hidden gems that can be found if you look carefully. Ed said a man stopped by with about 15 boxes of magazines from his father’s collection after he passed away. The father had been a notable bookseller in the valley, according to Ed. The man was on his way to the dump and wanted to know if Ed would take them after an attempt to sell them by the box wasn’t fruitful.

“I said, ‘I just can’t see that going to the dump.’ I mean that’s a tragedy. I sold several boxes at $5 and I finally gave up on them and took them to the Gardner Auction. The eight boxes I took there, seven of them went for between $5 and $10 but one of them went for over $100. … There was something in there that I missed,” he said.

Besides sorting through plentiful donations, the couple built their inventory scouring online auctions and garage sales. At one point, the bookshop’s inventory totaled 16,000 to 17,000. They stopped bringing in additional inventory a few months ago. Eyeballing the store, Aiden said it looked like half of that total remained. Ed agreed. 

THE EMPTIED space is being remodeled into an apartment for one of the couple’s’ three children to move into and help care for them.

“Our three kids said, ‘You guys have got to slow down.’ So, my daughter came up here and said, ‘I’ll make you a deal. She said, ‘I’m ready to retire from Las Vegas and I’m coming up here but I don’t want to invest all my money in buying overpriced houses … I’d like to pay the expense of redoing the back half [of the bookshop].’”

When asked how old he is, he paused for a second. He is also a cancer survivor.

“Well, until about two years ago, I’d say l would be 42 for the second time around, but damn I’m to the point I’m feeling 88,” he said. 

The little bookshop is a place of fond memories. In November, he and the Rothfuss children planned Marge’s 84th birthday, reorganizing the space to hold a party with friends and family.

To have customers stop in and to buy books in the era of smartphones and ebooks, or find a child hiding among the bookshelves, immersed in a book, “Makes our heart feel great,” he said.

“To have somebody come in and say, ‘Oh I love the smell of a bookstore,’” Ed said, taking a deep breath. [Or say] ‘We love the smell of books. We love the feeling of books.’”

“It’s neat to find people today that have a love of books and are teaching their children to appreciate books,” he said.

Parkland Books is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, or by appointment. For more information call (406) 309-2851 or email