by Terry Ambrose
The Poisoned Pen Bookstore was founded by Barbara G. Peters in 1989 in Scottsdale, Arizona. The store carries current and classic works of mystery, thrillers, historical and literary fiction, and literature of the American Southwest, much of it offered in Autographed First Editions. For many bookstores, that would be enough, however, Poisoned Pen isn’t just an independent bookstore, it’s also a well-known publisher of mysteries.
In 1997, Barbara and her husband, Robert Rosenwald, started Poisoned Pen Press. According to Patrick Millikin of the Poisoned Pen bookstore, “It all began with the humble goal of reprinting neglected mystery novels that had gone out-of-print. In the past twenty years, they’ve really built the Poisoned Pen Press into a major player in the field, publishing a strong combination of original mystery fiction and the very popular British Library Crime Classics series. Earlier this year, Sourcebooks acquired the Poisoned Pen Press and is now the owner of the imprint. Luckily, Sourcebooks has wisely retained the staff of the Poisoned Pen Press here in Scottsdale.”
Like many independent bookstores, the Poisoned Pen Bookstore hosts regular author events. Actually, they host several hundred author events each year, and recently celebrated their thirtieth year in business. The most memorable events have included Diana Gabaldon (author of the Outlander novels, who has been signing at Poisoned Pen since her first book), P.D. James, and Tony Hillerman. Other guests include the masters of crime fiction today, like James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, and Anne Perry.
Located in the Arts District of downtown Scottsdale, Patrick said the store has always had a mutually supportive relationship with their fellow businesses in the area. “It’s gratifying to hear from customers that they’d been sent our way by restaurants, galleries, and shops in the neighborhood. We try to do the same by recommending local businesses in the neighborhood. The Hotel Valley Ho houses the vast majority of the authors who travel through and do events at The Poisoned Pen, and Virtu, a local restaurant in the area, practically has a table put aside for Barbara.”
The business environment and technology have changed drastically since 1989. Gone are most of the chain bookstores unable to adapt to a bookselling behemoth that now dominates the market. The survivors are the independent bookstores, such as the Poisoned Pen, who have evolved with the times. “We have a staffer on board who does a remarkable job of maintaining our Twitter presence, and we’ve been upping our game on Instagram and Facebook as well,” Patrick said.
Over the past twenty-five years, the store has had to navigate some lean years. They did this by expanding their vision of what they do and increasing their mail order business and online visibility. Patrick noted that there’s been an interesting shift in the past few years with the closing of many of the big chain bookstores. “For the first time in a long time it is good to be an independent bookstore again. From a marketing standpoint, our biggest challenge is always just getting the word out there that we exist. It’s a fatal error to assume that everyone knows we’re here, when in reality a tiny fraction of the population knows about The Poisoned Pen. We’re always looking at new ways to change that.”
Learn more about the Poisoned Pen Bookstore at poisonedpen.com.
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