Evan Schertz, the son of Maria’s Bookshop owners Peter Schertz and Andrea Avantaggio, is joining the family ownership and will soon lead the store after graduating in May from the Colorado School of Mines with a degree in mechanical engineering.
“I was drawn to engineering by the problem-solving and the critical thinking involved in looking at systems and seeing how they work. That makes owning a bookstore not such a crazy idea,” Evan Schertz said in an interview Tuesday.
Evan was 6 months old when Peter Schertz and Andrea Avantaggio bought Maria’s in May 1998 from Dusty Teal, who purchased The Bookshop in September 1984. It was under Teal’s ownership when the store changed its name to Maria’s Bookshop, a name inspired by San Ildefonso Pueblo potter Maria Martinez.
“He’s been around the shop his entire life. He knows what the shop means. Maria’s is part of the family. It’s part of the dinnertime conversations. We just don’t set a plate for it,” Avantaggio said.
The possibility that Maria’s, one of the last independent bookstores in Durango, might close was a “buzz” Peter Schertz said he had heard around town after Avantaggio and he announced the bookstore was for sale in May 2018.
The announcement that Maria’s was for sale came soon after two longtime Durango businesses, Katzin Music & Studios and Southwest Sound, had closed their doors, and Schertz said the timing led to speculation that Maria’s also might be shuttered.
“There was a sense that Maria’s was not going to continue. We never thought that, and I hope this comes with a sense of relief for the community,” Peter Schertz said.
In fact, Avantaggio said independent bookstores are experiencing a renewal after suffering as a result of the advent of internet sales in the 1990s.
Eighty-five independent bookstores opened across the country in the past year, she said.
“People realize that an independent bookstore is often the heart of a vibrant community, and towns that don’t have one are looking for one,” Avantaggio said.
Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, said he was pleased Maria’s was staying in the Avantaggio/Schertz family.
He added: “Evan is joining a growing number of younger bookstore owners from all over the country, and we could not be more thrilled that he’ll continue the extraordinary tradition established by his parents and the previous owners of Maria’s. Though all of us in bookselling will miss Andrea and Peter, this transition is excellent news for Durango and for all of Maria’s fans across the country.”
Evan’s parents will continue to be involved at the bookshop during what Peter Schertz said would be “a long transition phase.”
He added, “After that, we will see where life takes us. We will definitely stay in Durango. Andrea may submit a job application to Evan as a bookseller. I want to grow more tomatoes and find new trails to hike.”
Depending on the season, Maria’s Bookshop employs between 14 to 18 part-time and full-time employees.
The bookstore initially opened in 1972 under its first owner, Don Barcus.
Evan Schertz and his parents said changes are ongoing and will continue, but they will be subtle adjustments.
“We’ve been making changes for 20 years,” Peter Schertz said.
Evan Schertz added, “If we change things the right way, no one notices.”
Julie Shimada, a 13-year employee at Maria’s, said staff members were happy to hear Evan Schertz will lead the shop.
“I think it’s wonderful for the community, wonderful for the book industry and great for the bookshop. It means Andrea’s and Peter’s legacy lives on and it stays in the family.”
The possibility that Evan Schertz might take over the bookshop came up when he was a sophomore, but it wasn’t until his senior year that he was sure he was committed to lead the family business.
“The feeling of community Durango has and the feeling of community the bookstore has is something I don’t really see myself finding anywhere else,” he said.