Great expectations

Mark Nemmers

Photo By Larry Dalton

For Mark Nemmers, owner of Bogey’s Books in Davis, opening a bookstore brought about the fulfillment of a longtime dream. But when big-box business, in the form of a Borders store, rolled into town, new, unforeseen challenges threatened the lifeblood of Davis’ dedicated group of independent booksellers. Unwilling to give in, Nemmers, backed by droves of loyal customers, quickly adapted to the new competition. Offering one of the best selections of hard-to-find, new and used books in the area, Bogey’s continues to buck the big-box trend, satisfying bibliophiles of all sorts.

How did you get into the book-selling business?

You know, that story is a little odd. Even though I’ve enjoyed reading as long as I can remember, I never really had the intense passion for books that the rest of my family did. So, it’s ironic that I was the kid who ended up opening a bookstore. Anyhow, I was working in radio news in Washington, D.C.; Wisconsin; and Texas during the ‘70s and ‘80s, and, during that time, wherever I was living, I constantly haunted the new- and used-book stores. So, in 1990, I fulfilled a dream of opening my own store. And, despite a few challenges since then, it’s turned into a success.

How did you go about choosing Davis as the home for a bookstore?

After traveling around and checking out more than a dozen different parts of the country, including Wisconsin—where I went to college—Washington, Oregon, and up and down California, I discovered Davis. At that time, Davis had a large number of thriving, top-quality new- and used-book stores. The town was a strong regional destination for book lovers, and local residents seemed proud of their diverse and numerous bookstores.

Does Davis have a thriving local arts scene?

While it’s noticeable, I’m afraid it’s not as dynamic as it was when I first came to town. Beginning in the mid-'90s, the city of Davis quietly launched a camouflaged growth campaign, which is resulting in the inevitable cookie-cutter tract homes, strip malls and chain stores. And, it seems to me, the growth has produced a somewhat less-literate population. We still have a core of serious readers, but, overall, I’m seeing less demand for books of the intellectual depth that people were wanting 10 years ago. Overall, folks seem a little less adventurous in terms of choosing authors.

Are there local authors we should be reading?

Two of my absolute favorites are Kim Stanley Robinson and Karen Joy Fowler. Both are just incredibly brilliant writers who have produced an impressive range of inspired and fresh speculative fiction. With his novels on [Thomas] Jefferson, [Andrew] Jackson and [Ulysses S.] Grant, Max Byrd has risen to be one of the top two or three historical-fiction writers in America. For beautiful children’s books, the illustrator and writer Yan Nascimbene is a must-read and a personal favorite. One of the area’s most underappreciated writers but who, someday, will get his just due here is the novelist, poet and essayist Clarence Major. His writing is moving and profound. He has a strong following on the East Coast.

What kinds of changes have you seen take place in Davis over the years?

Davis is evolving into a community more homogenous with other California towns. Sadly, I’m watching it steadily losing its unique progressive, environmental and quasi-bohemian identity that it had during the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s. The university seems to be transitioning itself from arts and agriculture to hard-science research. Economic conservatism is much more prevalent in the local lifestyle, with a social progressivism that’s a mile wide but only an inch thick. Every day, I see more SUVs and fewer bicycles on Davis’ streets. And, of course, there’s growing local enthusiasm for more malls and big-box chain stores.

How have these changes affected business and other things?

Economically, of course, they’ve been hammers on many locally owned, independent businesses. We lost three great bookstores shortly after Borders moved into the university’s chain strip mall a few years ago. Nevertheless, I think the downtown has been able to keep most of its luster as a unique shopping destination with a variety of stores that people can’t find other places. We often have out-of-town customers who say they’re grateful to find a quality independent used- and new-book store since the ones in their own town were driven out by the chains. I think a lot of Americans, in their short-term, free-market thinking, tend to forget that you have to protect what you want to preserve. And they often end up with fewer choices.

What does the future hold for the independent bookstore?

I think in communities that actively support their local indie bookstores—recognizing that if they don’t use ’em, they’ll lose ’em—those stores will do fine, just as they have in intellectually progressive communities such as Seattle, Berkeley and San Francisco. The chains and the Internet are and will continue to be formidable opponents. But I think independent bookstores are a long way from being paleo-businesses. Diversity is always better.