Facing an uncertain future

Employees struggle to save Off the Beaten Path Bookstore

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Jim Barker, left, and his mother, Gin, enjoy lunch at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday afternoon.

Kathy Cox calls Off the Beaten Path Bookstore her "hub" in Steamboat Springs.

Cox and her sixth-grade daughter live 12 miles outside of town, near Creek Ranch. But the two frequently visit their self-described "after-school stomping ground" to grab a snack and recharge before extracurricular activities. It's also where Cox meets with friends or grabs coffee and a bagel after dropping her daughter off at school.

But unless owners Dick and Leslie Ryan can find a buyer for their business soon, Off the Beaten Path Bookstore could close as soon as January.

Both the business and its building on Seventh Street were listed for sale in July. Although the structure sold quickly, the future of the business remains up in the air, Dick Ryan said.

He and his wife moved to Steamboat in 1988 to run their bookstore, which has been operating in its current location since 1990. But this week, Dick Ryan said "it's simply time to move on."

After nearly 20 years in operation, moving on will not come easy.

"It's kind of like giving up your kids to college," he said. "We have a lot of emotional investment."

The Ryans said a number of individual buyers and families have expressed interest in taking over Off the Beaten Path, but Dick Ryan said offers have been too low to accept.

His hope was to find a new owner who would continue operating Off the Beaten Path as locals know it today, but the Ryans have reluctantly had to discuss the possibility of closing.

"There's always the distinct possibility that we'll have to close the doors and liquidate," Dick Ryan said.

Closing is not an option that Off the Beaten Path's employees are willing to take sitting down. Several staff members have banded together to try to buy the business themselves and keep it open.

"All we know is we don't want it to close," said Carol Forney, a bookkeeper at Off the Beaten Path. "We love it, the community loves it, and it would break the community's heart to see it close."

Regulars at Off the Beaten Path are not just bookworms - they include couples who come in every day and do crossword puzzles and kids who work on homework after school, Forney said.

But employees don't have enough funds to buy the business outright, and they are looking for financiers or silent partners to bolster their offer.

"We felt it was way too important to the community to let this little gathering place go without any fight to save it," Forney said.

- To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203

or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com

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