On an unusually warm fall day, I sat outside Hyde Brothers Booksellers in Fort Wayne, Indiana with its manager Tasha, who had graciously agreed to an interview with me. Wearing masks and social distancing, we occasionally had to repeat ourselves, but the fantastic weather made it seem like a minor inconvenience.
Tasha has been working at Hyde Brothers for about twenty-one years, and has become skilled at wearing many hats when necessary. That can include everything from shelving books, to buying books from customers, or placing merchandise orders. (Be sure to check out their totes and mugs for Christmas gifts.)
When asked about the store's history, Tasha informed me that the Hyde brothers, Sam and Joel, began the business in 1992. Then in 2006 the brothers parted ways in business, with Sam remaining at the current Wells Street location. However, Joel still frequents the store on a regular basis.
I was fortunate to have met Sam and found him to be a warm, welcoming individual. His stories were probably what I enjoyed the most whenever I stopped in to either buy or sell books. He hosted my first book signing, then followed it up by purchasing several copies for his store. An entire family of book lovers, myself included, were saddened to hear of Sam's passing on July 9, 2019. Thankfully, his wife, Marilyn, chose not to sell the store.
A small dedicated staff with years of experience at Hyde Brothers, kept the business running smoothly. Tasha took over as manager around this time. Her love for this family-owned business and the local community is obvious through her dedication to helping the store survive the corona virus pandemic and all the challenges it has brought with it.
One such challenge was the need to cancel an entire 2020 summer series of book and author events that had been planned for Sundays at the new Promenade Park Pavillion. As the in-store business was temporarily shut down, Tasha turned to encouraging customers to make purchases online, which had actually been available since 1996. However, new offers such as "bundling" gave customers the opportunity to order a select number of books ("bundles") in their favorite genres. That is likely to continue due to its success. Other community outreach events through social media will be revealed in the near future, and I, for one, look forward to hearing more about it.
Though 99% of the books that Hyde Brothers carries are used, there's a small selection of new books as well, including books by local authors. When asked why they've continued to show such support, when chain stores do not, Tasha explained that they are a vested part of the community, so it only makes sense that they would support authors from within that community. Those same individuals, in turn, support Hyde Brothers as well.
When asked if Tasha has had any unusual requests for a book, she replied, "Not really." Since Hyde Brothers carries a vast array of books in every genre, even though a customer might think their request is odd, it's often easily found among their shelves. Tasha added that the majority of their books in stock come from customers, which again demonstrates how Hyde Brothers and the local community rely on each other.
Sometimes book lovers from other countries have searched out their store when in the area. One such customer was from Australia, probably the furthest. Personally, I once encountered someone from Germany while browsing the book shelves.
I was also curious to know if anyone had ever gotten lost in the maze of book shelves that cover a main floor and a basement level. (Full disclosure, yours truly nearly did once.) Tasha laughed and said no one had, but at one of their big events, a mom and child had gotten separated in the large crowd. It was a bit of a scare, but fortunately staff were able to reunite the two after a joint effort.
At this point, I'd be remiss not to ask about the store's guardians and greeters. Of course, I'm referring to the cats. From Katie and Smokey to the current beloved Sherlock and Scout, a number of cats have been privileged to have become a part of the Hyde Brothers' family over the years. Each cat, with their own personality, has called the store their home. On any given visit to the store, you might find one such cat following you as you browse books, while you might not initially spot the other cat, who can choose to remain aloof, curled up cozily on a shelf. (I'll let you figure out which is which on your next visit.) They're one more example of what makes a trip to Hyde Brothers such a unique experience.
Speaking of unique, I asked Tasha if she could think of something most people don't know about Hyde Brothers Booksellers, and she did not disappoint. It might come as a surprise to some that book shelves and the vintage card catalogue behind the front desk once were owned by the Allen County Public Library. Although the card catalogue no longer organizes book titles, it still contains some of the original cards once used for that purpose. Other favorite items include the rolling ladders used to acquire that special book found on a shelf beyond reach.
Finally, I'd like to thank Tasha again for taking time out of her busy schedule to meet with me, although it never once felt that the interview was rushed. I've no doubt that Tasha and the rest of the staff at Hyde Brothers will continue to make adjustments where necessary in order to provide customers access to their abundant selection of books throughout the duration of this pandemic, all the while retaining the charm and friendly service that defines this unique book store. For that, the community and myself are grateful, and I wish them all the best.
-- M.A. Koontz