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Reverie Books is keeping the dream of South Austin alive and well
Songwriter and former TreeFolks director opened this Menchaca Road bookstore in September: "Bookstores are where I would go to explore what it meant to be me."
Reverie Books opened just in time.
Sure, the supply chain is out of whack and a global pandemic has been raging for 18 months, but bookstore owner Thaïs Perkins says a queer, feminist and social justice-centered store couldn’t have happened without all the changes that the coronavirus pandemic brought and a chance run-in with a used bookstore owner who was ready to retire.
First, a little about Perkins. She’s the former executive director of TreeFolks who left that job in 2019 without knowing that a year later, she would be running a pod school for the neighborhood kids. (Her children are 11 and 16.)
“It was Looney Tunes.”
This wasn’t her first stint as a teacher.
Perkins has a masters degree in forestry and grew up in the “middle of nowhere Louisiana.” By 17, she’d graduated from high school and was living in Oregon, working as a singer-songwriter. “I lived on the road for years and got real broke and sick and tired,” she says.
She eventually went back to school and became a university instructor and researcher, focusing first on swamplands and then on watersheds. After working in environmental regulation at a water treatment plant in Austin, Perkins became the executive director of TreeFolks in 2014.
During all these life and career changes, Perkins was making an annual pilgrimage to the Kerrville Folk Festival.
“It is a Mecca for American songwriters,” she says. “It was legendary, you know you could just show up. It used to be where you’d show up with your CD, and they’d put you on staff.”
That’s where she met David Schunck, a Vietnam war vet turned “peace-loving hippie” who ran Good Buy Books for decades. “He wanted to retire, but he didn’t fully want to let go, and I was looking for my next gig,” she says.
Why a bookstore?
“I have always loved bookstores as community places, places of healing. When I grew up as a troubled teen in Louisiana, bookstores are where I would go to feel solace and to explore what it meant to be me. I’d find the feminist bookstores with Ms. magazine on the shelf, it was a place where I could kind of hide out.”
A 70-year-old Vietnam vet and a 40-something lesbian, it turns out they have quite a lot to say to each other. They are both songwriters who see books as a way of building community. Schunck still has some shelves of used books in the back of the store, and the rest of the shelves are filled with contemporary and classic books, zines and non-traditional titles, puzzles, a few well-curated toys, notecards, magnets and other gifts.
Reverie means “a state of being pleasantly lost in one's thoughts; a daydream.”
“That was my dream for this: I wanted something for everybody, but I especially wanted kids who felt marginalized and not represented to be able to come in and feel like they have a place. And it’s working.”
Perkins reaches over to the wall by her computer to peel off a handwritten note on a blue notecard. “This bookstore is my new favorite place. I feel seen, heard and represented,” the patron wrote.
She keeps this reminder by her desk so she can remember why she opened the store in the first place.
“You know, this is risky. It’s not nothing,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of professional positions and made decent money for my family, but this isn’t that and it may never be that. My wife is the breadwinner, and I’m not used to being someone who doesn’t.”
Perkins points out the connection between starting a bookstore and spending all those years on the road as a singer-songwriter. “There’s always a balance between how much of what I want to achieve in the world and how much I want to sacrifice for a salary versus what I want to get out of this life.”
She says the whole family has been on board with the project, especially now that the sense of community is building.
Having just come from the non-profit world, Perkins is constantly thinking about giving back to the community. She makes donations to non-profits, including Planned Parenthood and the Gay Straight Alliance at the nearby Crockett High School. “It’s hard to sustain but it’s an important part of what we’re doing.”
Supporters can sponsor individual shelves inside the bookstore, where you’ll find names like Pati McCandless (a Substack subscriber who gave me the tip about this store when it first opened. Thanks, Pati!).
In her little corner of the parking lot in front, she’s hosting some outdoor events that will eventually move indoors once COVID-19 subsides, where the rolling bookshelves can make way for chairs. Her neighbors at Captain Quackenbush's Coffeehouse next door have brought her pie, and Austin author Lauren Hough is hosting a presentation there on Friday night.
Customers can also rent out the space for a private shopping session or a date night, including cheese, wine and charcuterie.
Perkins says that hers is one of many indie bookstores that have opened during the pandemic, which from a commercial perspective seems counter-intuitive.
But when thinking from the point of view of what’s best for the community, it’s exactly what we needed.
Hello, hello, Substack fans! I’m sending this newsletter out to everyone because I want to get the word out about Reverie Books AND I want to encourage you to sign up for the paid version ahead of next week’s post about this wonderful human, Mariana McEnroe.
To set it up: You’ll remember that last week, I wrote about a recent trip to the new Julia Child exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center.
I went with Mariana, whom I’ve known since 2013 and who is the co-author of a new book coming out this month called “Dining with the Dead.” This book is the most incredible cookbook I’ve seen come out of Austin in years. (Her husband, Ian, took the photos, and I want them hanging on my walls.)
The couple’s stunning debut cookbook is getting a lot of well-deserved media attention this month — so keep your eyes and eared peeled for mentions in Texas Monthly and elsewhere.
In the paid version of the newsletter next week, I am telling story behind this book, but more importantly, the kind and generous friends who made it. I hope you’ll consider signing up!
An update about my podcast: I’m finishing the last few episodes of “Class Reunion: The Podcast” with a slew of good ones. This week, our volleyball star explains why she turned down a scholarship, and recent episodes feature the class clown (Travis, below left) and one of my high school besties (Abby, she’s sandwiched between me and our friend Lindsey below).
I’ve had so much fun making that podcast! I’ll write an essay on The Feminist Kitchen when I finish it about the experience, but in the meantime, check out patreon.com/classreunionpodcast if you want to chip in on those classmate donations.
And finally: Don’t forget that you can book 1:1 or group tarot sessions with me!
Last weekend, I was the guest of honor at a party in Taylor with nine tarot newbies, and by the end of the night, they were reading cards with each other and sharing insights into their lives. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life; I’d be honored to share some of that magic with you. Check out my schedule at calendly.com/addiebroyles.
Thanks again for your support!
See you soon,