It's been an open secret for weeks now. All you have to do is look at the shelves, either empty or filled with books with their covers facing outward, to take up more space. It's a jarring site, especially at the height of the holiday shopping season when the shelves should be packed, with more piles on the floor. And it's a sure sign that a bookstore is on its way out.
But now it's official: After four years and two locations in Webster Groves, Pudd'nhead Books is closing shop. The going-out-of-business sale begins today and ends on December 30, when store will ring up its last sales. (The shelves and fixtures are also for sale.) The following day everything that didn't get sold will be cleared out.
"It's not a decision," says owner Nikki Furrer. "I'm out of money. It's boring to run out of money. I wish I had a better story. It doesn't have to close. If I could find a buyer or a financial backer, it would be like a Christmas miracle. But it can't be only me anymore when it comes to the checkbook."
Pudd'nhead is the second local indie to close this year, following Sue's News, which shut its doors in July.
Furrer opened Pudd'nhead in October, 2008, in Webster's Old Orchard Center, financed by a $120,000 bank loan and another $40,000 in personal savings, much of it earned during two long, boring years doing document review for a New York law firm.
"The root of the problem," Furrer says now, "is that I didn't start out with enough cash."
For the first two years, though, Pudd'nhead broke even. Although it remained the smallest of St. Louis's general-interest indie bookstores, it gained a reputation as the friendliest, with the most expansive children's section. (It was also Riverfront Times' Best Independent Bookstore in 2010 and 2012.)
Furrer and her small staff had seemingly read everything in the store and were able to offer personalized recommendations to customers, both the regulars and the walk-ins. When Henry, Furrer's dog and a regular store presence, died, there was an outpouring of mourning; one customer even gave Furrer a portrait he had painted of the deceased. (The dog has since been replaced by a young, energetic poodle-cocker spaniel mix, also named Henry.)
Two years in, Furrer was feeling optimistic. She decided to start hosting more events, which required ordering in large quantities of books -- which didn't always sell.
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