POINT REYES BOOKS | West Marin
At first, living in Inverness felt like a monastic existence, says Steve Costa. He and his wife, Kate Levinson, only knew three or four people when they first moved in 1998. But they quickly became a part of a tight-knit, spirited community. One night, over dinner, Jill Westley, who at the time owned the now-defunct Brown Study Bookshop, told Steve and Kate that she was planning on selling the bookshop and retiring. The next morning, upon waking, Steve turned to Kate and said, “Let’s buy the bookstore.” So they bought it, without any retail or bookstore experience, and opened Point Reyes Books.
It would be inaccurate to say that Point Reyes Books is just a bookstore. It does not merely sell books, though the books are important, of course. The power of books—their ability to unite people who would otherwise have little in common, over universal themes—is perhaps representative of the bookstore itself, whose reach into the community is deep and wide, and whose benefit for its patrons and visitors extends beyond literary provisions. Point Reyes Books hosts weekly author events, sponsors the Point Reyes farmers market, and has raised over $300,000 for local non-profits. Point Reyes Books is, as far as Steve knows, the only bookstore in the country to have its own literary and arts journal—the West Marin Review. It also hosts a bi-annual literary conference called Geography of Hope, which started in 2008 as a gathering of people interfacing about literature, community, and place. U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, poet and peace activist Brenda Hillman, and environmental historian Philip Fradkin were among its first organizers.
It would be inaccurate to say that Point Reyes Books is just a bookstore. It does not merely sell books, though the books are important, of course. The power of books—their ability to unite people who would otherwise have little in common, over universal themes—is perhaps representative of the bookstore itself, whose reach into the community is deep and wide, and whose benefit for its patrons and visitors extends beyond literary provisions.
A brick-and-mortar bookstore doesn’t just accidentally turn into wellspring for the community, an integral hub for the denizens of its surrounds. That transformation requires vision, intention, and a profusion of generosity guided by service in favor of a communal gestalt—the idea that good enacted by and for community is greater than what can be enacted by and for mere individuals. Steve excels in community organizing, which he has done for over 40 years, beginning with his experience as a VISTA volunteer in the south Bronx of New York City, and which he continues to do, not only at the bookstore but as a board member of the Tomales Bay Library Association and the Point Reyes National Seashore Association. According to Steve, community organizing is identifying the needs and opportunities in a community, and the coming together of residents to respond.
But at the heart of building community is building relationships, a lesson Steve learned from his grandfather, who owned a dry goods store in Santa Rosa. As a Lebanese immigrant from Beirut, Steve’s grandfather never learned to read or write English, but thrived because of the relationships he had with the customers that would come into the store. Steve himself is as inviting and open as his bookstore, where you’ll find a trove of book recommendations that are personalized by the staff and localized to the surrounding region. He gestures enthusiastically with his hands when he shares about his work with the West Marin Fund, a non-profit that he helped found, and stands up to talk about the nine framed letterpress broadsides hanging in his office, which is located around the corner from the bookstore. Alongside artwork from local artists, the broadsides feature quotes from authors who have hosted special events at Point Reyes Books, including W.S. Merwin, Terry Tempest Williams, Gary Snyder, and Michael Pollan.
One broadside features a quote from author and environmentalist Aldo Leopold. It reads: “Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel.” Steve and Kate have a good shovel, and they are planting everywhere they can, starting with Point Reyes Books—but certainly not ending there.