By Christopher Jones
It was once said by author Harold Kushner that “I think of life as a good book. The further you get into it, the more it begins to make sense”. The owners of Rockford’s newest, and only, independent bookstore could have had this in mind when they decided to open up Epilogue Books, located at 10 East Bridge Street in downtown Rockford. I recently had the chance to spend some time with the book-loving owners to find out more about their love of books, their love of Rockford and how putting the two together was a lifelong dream finally realized.
Epilogue Books is owned and operated by the husband and wife team of Pat and Valerie Burkholder. Living in Rockford, the one thing that Valerie always felt was missing a classic, independent bookstore. She would be out eating dinner at various Rockford locations and whenever she would see an empty place, she would think how that would be a good spot for a bookstore. With Valerie’s passion of bookstores and Pat’s love of books, they always planned on opening a bookstore, but the timing never really seemed right. When the chance for an early retirement was offered by her company, she couldn’t pass it up. Pat also retired from his teaching job and in December of 2017 they signed a lease for their location in The Promenade. In July of 2018 they opened the doors and Epilogue Books was born.
Walking into the bookstore, you can see their love of books and the bookstore experience on full display. Off to the left of the entrance is an amazing children’s area with hand-painted murals on the wall with soft pillows and carpet for kids to curl up on and choose what books they want. The work done inside the rest of the bookstore was a family affair. Starting with a blank canvas, Pat’s sons helped by building the bookcases and risers and installing the sound system. All of the interior design work was done by themselves with help from family. With concrete floors, soft lighting and differing shelves, cabinets and tables, you feel instantly comfortable walking in.
I asked them what the biggest challenge is for independent bookstore owners and the answer is pretty obvious: Amazon. It’s almost impossible for small bookstores to compete with the prices offered by Amazon and other online retailers. However, there was one quote from Pat that I find does an incredible job at describing the difference between buying a book online and at a bookstore: “At a bookstore you get an experience, you don’t just get a book”. You can come in and talk to the owners and get an honest assessment on a book you are thinking about, or a suggestion on what to read next. They have a coffee machine in the back where you can grab a cup of coffee, have a seat and read a little bit of the book you are thinking about before you buy it. You won’t read a bunch of online reviews about people not getting their book in two days. You will have it in your hand (they will also special order you something if they don’t have it in stock). The fact that they each have different tastes in books furthers the help you can get. Valerie is more of a fiction fan while Pat likes to read more non-fiction books. The chances are, though, if you have a question on a book, they can help.
Pat and Valerie are also doing a great job of joining the Rockford business community and taking part in and/or hosting many great events. On November 27th, from 5-7pm, Rockford’s own Ginger Zee will be in the store doing a book signing of her two books (an autobiography and a children’s book). They are also taking place in the Healthy Kids Initiative through Rockford High School. Another exciting fact about Epilogue Books is that they offer story times for kids on alternating Thursdays and Saturdays at 11am. Call or check their Facebook page for more details on this or for any of their upcoming events.
There is something about the smell of a book that really sparks the imagination. You don’t get that same sensation reading a book on a digital screen. You have to hold the book in your hands, feel the paper, hear the creak on the spine when you open it up for the first time. There really is nothing like a good book or a good bookstore. Rockford is now lucky to have a bookstore to call our own.
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