Geronimo’s Books brings the good old-fashioned book shop back to the Southside

Last March, following more than four decades running Midtown bookshop/book exchange Book Mountain, owner Peggy Frank—who is locally famous or infamous depending on whom you ask—announced that rather than selling her store when she retired, she hoped to gift it and its many tomes to the type of people who not only love books, but who would carry on its legacy. And though a pair of Santa Feans who had initially hoped to take over the shop ultimately balked at the deal, they opened a Southside shop of their own this week.

Yet Geronimo’s Books almost never happened. Book Mountain opened in 1980, man, so people have kind of grown accustomed to its presence. A buyer Frank had lined up last spring backed out, leaving her with thousands of books and little recourse. It looked like the store would just plain close, but then came Phil Geronimo and Lauren Ayer, a married couple and pair of book fanatics who’d often shopped at Frank’s business.

Geronimo and Ayer met while the former was working at the long-since closed Zia Diner some years ago, and a chance conversation about baseball brought them together. Geronimo would go on to work at local bookshops like op.cit and Collected Works for a decade; Ayer had been a book lover since her aunt, a grade school teacher, taught her to read when she was a toddler. After college at UCLA and San Francisco State University, Ayer went into tech in the Bay, but was feeling burned out following years of 60-hour work weeks when a six-month leave of absence spurred by a retreat with writer Natalie Goldberg brought her to Santa Fe. She’s been here ever since. Geronimo, meanwhile, is as puro local as it comes—he grew up on Baca Street and, like Ayer, developed a borderline obsession with the written word when he was young.

“I spent so much time in the library,” he tells SFR. “I [was learning to be] a library aide in sixth grade and again in junior high, then I went to New Mexico State University, which had this huge library, and from then on I just spent so much time there reading the stuff I wanted to read.”

Looping back around to last spring, when Book Mountain’s Frank said she’d give Ayer and Geronimo the shop for free, Geronimo’s years of experience working at local bookshops and Ayer’s affinities made the cashless transaction seem a godsend for a town like ours. While Santa Fe counts a number of bookshops, its Midtown and Southside remain underserved in this arena. The all-paperback Book Mountain had thus become a bit of an oasis over the last 40 years, especially with its trade policies that found customers able to drop off books in exchange for store credit. That it stayed open felt important; that local book lovers almost certainly know Geronimo as a stalwart presence in word commerce and as a writer/poet himself seemed a no-brainer.

Frank announced the transition in March, but by last July, however, Geronimo and Ayer had backed out of the deal. For the record, Book Mountain has taken on new proprietors and will stay open, but I shan’t belabor what is surely a complicated situation. Having briefly worked at the shop in my early 20s, I know just what Frank meant when she told the Santa Fe New Mexican, “I’ve got this reputation for being hardheaded and inflexible. And I am,” following the dissolution. So Ayer and Geronimo’s plan to launch their own store seems like a good outcome. Geronimo’s Books opened officially on Monday, Sept. 11.

Like Book Mountain, it’ll run partially through trade-ins from customers (credit will be determined on a book-by-book basis), but Geronimo and Ayer tell SFR they’re in the process of onboarding a distributor for select new releases. Additionally, they say, they have high hopes for transforming their space into not just a haven for words, but a community hangout for writers, poets, readers and so on. Scholar Timothy Nelson, for example, is slated to do a reading for his book, Blackdom, New Mexico: The Significance of the Afro-Frontier in October, and poets Christopher J. Johnson, Tommy Archuleta and Daniel Bonhourst are scheduled to read on Sept. 16 in a benefit for the Prison Drum Circle Project—an initiative of Archuleta’s that aims to bring music to incarcerated people as a means for bolstering mental health.

“I could really dig having live music, somebody with their guitar to come in on weekends and poetry readings,” Geronimo says. “And the poets wouldn’t have to worry about expenses—they could sell their own books if they have them, because I just want to get people into the store. We want a place where people can hang out. The point is there’s something for everyone.”

“And we’ll have signed copies and first editions of books,” Ayer adds. “We want people to cherish books.”

Phil & Lauren’s Top Picks

With Geronimo’s Books dealing mainly in used items, stock will surely be transient. Still, we asked Geronimo and Ayer for recommendations, all of which are, as of this writing, available to pick up at the shop.

Phil’s Picks

1. Family of Secrets by Russ Baker

“A scathing expose on the Bush crime family.”

2. The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

“A Norwegian reporter’s account of life in post-Taliban Afghanistan.”

3. The Lion Bridge by Michael Palmer

“One of the most influential collections on my poetry style.”

4. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

“Why we have a lot of what influences American lifestyle.”

5. Fool by Christopher Moore

“A hilarious retelling of Macbeth through the perspective of the fool.”

Lauren’s Picks

1. Collected Poems by James Wright

“When I was a kid my parents read to me and my brother and sister, my favorites, were poetry. But when I got to college, this book blew away everything I knew about poetry and the poet that I wanted to be.”

2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

“My grandfather fought in WWll, this book is the first book that gave me a taste of what he may have gone through.”

3. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

“I hate to admit I saw the movie first, which was lovely, but the book was so beautiful so much more emotional.”

4. The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

“I love the juxtaposition of Joan of Ark as the protagonist in a sci-fi novel.”

5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

“I’ve read them, it’s true to life.”

Geronimo’s Books Grand Opening Poetry Reading: 4 pm Saturday, Sept. 16. $2. Geronimo’s Books, 3018 Cielo Court Ste. D, (505) 467-8315

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