THRIVING SMALL BUSINESSES IN WYOMING: Casper Bookseller Keeps Community Well-Stocked and Well-Read

At Wind City Books, owner Miranda Berdahl forges a bond with loyal bookworms

Miranda Berdahl, owner of Wind City Books in Casper, said she wants "anyone who walks in to feel welcome and safe and loved." (Courtesy photo from Dana Miller Photography)

By Bob Wooley

Special to the Wyoming Truth

“Books change the world.”

It’s a four-word quote from Miranda Berdahl, owner of Casper’s Wind City Books, that speaks volumes.

Berdahl, 42, credits her mom, a teacher who always read to her as a child, with instilling in her a love of learning about differing opinions and philosophies. It also led her to get lost in books — sometimes for days on end.

As a child, I was a voracious reader, to the point where I would get in trouble for staying inside on summer days,” she said. “I would read a Stephen King book all day long — one of his entire books, in a day. I’d have to make myself go and eat or take breaks.”

Berdahl carried on the tradition by reading to her children, ages 15 and 17, from infancy. It was no surprise, she said, that she would someday find a small piece of the literary world to call her own.

A driving force

Berdahl started as a bookseller at Wind City Books in 2016 and advanced to become manager a year later. In the beginning, as a newly single mom, her main motivation was to provide for her family. And she was willing to invest the time and effort to learn every aspect of the business in hopes of becoming its owner one day.

Aside from general store management, bookkeeping, shipping and receiving and returns, Berdahl also had to learn the process of ordering books. Much thought goes into deciding what books to put on the shelves. Berdahl attends industry trade shows, connects with representatives from publishing companies and pores through industry catalogs in search of new titles and authors.

“Pretty early after I started working here, I had the discussion with the previous owners, Vicki Burger and Hugh Jenkins, that when they retired, I wanted to take over,” she said. “I didn’t know how long they would continue on before retiring.”

After shepherding the store through the worst of the pandemic, the duo retired and Berdahl secured a loan to buy the business.

The irony of her buying the store in the middle of a global pandemic is not lost on Berdahl. She looks at it as further proof that independent stores are invaluable, especially to small cities and towns. 

“During the pandemic, even Amazon was having trouble shipping goods,” Berdahl said. “But schools still needed books. And we were able to help supply them.” 

Shelves are lined with some of the more than 25,000 books on hand at Wind City Books in Casper. (Courtesy photo from Dana Miller Photography)

And as day follows night, when it was time to return the favor, Casper did its best to pay things forward.

Community matters

If you live in a place like New York City, where the world — its foods art and culture — can be found right outside your door, an independent bookstore is nice to have. 

But if you live in Wyoming, in a city big enough to support the wide-ranging tastes of its citizens, but small enough that keeping a brick-and-mortar retail operation afloat can be challenging, an independent bookstore, Berdahl said, is something special. Born and raised in Lusk, a small town high on the eastern plains of Wyoming, Berdahl said it’s something that resonates deeply with her.

She credits Casper with keeping Wind City Books open — thriving, actually — during the most challenging of times. Which unexpectedly came after the worst of the pandemic had passed.

With inflation creeping up and the supply chain nearly grinding to a halt, things at the store got pretty dicey, she said. But true to form, the city’s eclectic population of readers rallied.

“Casper is a small town and very close-knit,” she said. “All of the loyal customers that we have here came through for us and really amazed and surprised us. And they continue to do so. That support allowed me to keep my full staff of five.” 

And that in turn, keeps money in the pockets of Wind City Books’ workers and flowing through the community. It’s also important, Berdahl said, because her staff is representative of the city they serve. They read. It’s a key quality in a bookseller, who can make recommendations from the 25,000 titles on hand and provide a personal touch customers miss out on by ordering online.

To increase options for customers, Berdahl has boosted the number of titles stocked in the store since taking over. Westerns are the hottest sellers, and she credits Wyoming authors C.J. Box and Craig Johnson with their popularity. Fantasy and romance novels are popular, too. So far this year, Box’s “Storm Watch” is the store’s top-selling Western and Emily Henry’s “Happy Place” is the top-selling romance novel.

“I think of old bookstores I loved when I was younger,” she said. “They carried all of the things I would just walk around in awe of. Even the stuff I thought was kind of weird or whatever. But I want it all here, because I want everybody to find something for themselves.”

It’s the thought that counts

Asked what else she thinks makes the store a special place, Berdahl said it’s the same thing that makes Wyoming special: small towns allow people to get to know one another and care about each other. And that, she said, bleeds into the state’s businesses.

“It’s your community. You know these people. You want to support them. And that’s what I’m trying to do here,” she said. “I want anyone who walks in to feel welcome and safe and loved.”

It’s a sentiment that applies to local and regional authors as well. Wind City Books has an active calendar of events, including author signings and in-store readings. Berdahl does her best to support all authors, especially fledgling writers who are just starting out in the business. For a bookstore to compete with Amazon and big box retailers is a sign that business is good.

Berdahl noted that sales were unexpectedly strong during COVID-19 and remain strong today. That momentum is something Berdahl hopes to see continue, as books increasingly compete with electronic devices for young eyes.

As a business owner and a parent, Berdahl is concerned about how screen time dominates young lives. But at the same time, kids hear about books on social media and come to Wind City to buy them. Casper, she said, has a huge young readership.

Through it all, Berdahl strives to make the store the best it can be.

“I’m hoping that they have a special experience here and that we’re affecting people in a positive way, which is something I think we need more than ever now,” she said. “And in that, hopefully it comes back to us in the form of people continuing to come back and shop here again. I’m hoping to change the world in that small way.”

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